Research and Innovation


Globally, there are 13 qualified mental health professionals per 100 000 people. Source: World Health Organisation

In Zimbabwe, there were relatively few psychiatrists working in public health and when a mother told psychiatrist Professor Dixon Chibanda that her daughter had died of suicide because they did not have the bus fare to travel to see him; he came up with the concept of The Friendship Bench.  He reasoned that, in every village, there are grandmothers who have time and lived experience and he trained them to simply sit on the bench and listen, without judgement, and to offer support. He also trained them in “scope of practice” and when to refer someone to a qualified professional.

In India, ratios of mental health professionals were equally low and Harvard Professor Vikram Patel is quoted as saying: "

Mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone".

The new approach recognises that you don’t need a diagnosis to receive care and that the care you could receive can be delivered wherever you are, in the settings that you are living or working in, by people who are close to you and who you connect with.  The ultimate goal is to provide care that will give young people the skills they need to cope with different kinds of emotional distress and the motivation to deal with their difficulties in a purposeful way.

In South Africa, Professors Dan Stein, Crick Lund and Katherine Sorsdahl and Associate Professor Claire van der Westhuizen, among others, focus on Public Mental Health and speak of task sharing; delegating tasks that can be done by others, so that more people can be helped. 

COMMUNITY KEEPERS CARE FACILITATORS: On the one hand we have young people in low-income communities in need of help but put onto waiting lists and, on the other hand, young people, in these same communities, are unemployed but willing and have “lived experience”.  After a lot of consultation, we listened to everyone’s concerns and trialled an approach to train up young people in Mental Health First Aid.  When you come to the scene of an accident and see someone hurt and in pain, if you are trained in First Aid, you are able to kneel down and offer basic assistance until the specialists arrive. Mental Health First Aid is a similar concept.


Mirriam Mkhize (Clin. Soc. Worker.) and Chesney Ward-Smith (Clin. Psychologist) are PhD Fellows at the Alan J. Flisher Center for Public Mental Health. Mirriam’s PhD is focused on adapting and testing a World Health Organization intervention, the Early Adolescent Skills for Emotions, (EASE) for young adolescents and their caregivers. Chesney’s PhD is focused on adapting and testing an emotion regulation intervention, the #FeelThinkMove Programme with physical activity components, for older adolescents who are at risk for depression and anxiety. 

What are the next steps for the EASE programme?
We are adapting the EASE programme. This programme, which includes 7 sessions for adolescents and 3 sessions with caregivers aims to reduce depression and anxiety in young adolescents. CK learners and their caregivers were invited to participate in the EASE programme in 2023. We are excited to see these results!

What are the next steps in Chesney’s study?
Chesney is currently adapting the #FTM Programme, and she will collaborate with CK to test its feasibility and acceptability among learners from mid-2023. The programme includes 8-10 sessions once a week for adolescents in a group format. Learners will have the opportunity to learn and apply adaptive emotion regulation skills that will assist them in coping with difficult emotions and stress in general.


This research project, in association with Stellenbosch University and University of Bath and funded by Wellcome Trust, considers the prevention of anxiety and depression as an important public health objective, especially for children and adolescents and makes a case for  an opportunity to focus on building resilience as early as possible and on reaching children through the school community.

Four Steps To My Future (4STMF): acceptability, feasibility and exploratory outcomes of a universal school‐based mental health and well‐being programme, delivered to young adolescents in South Africa in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Bronwynè Coetzee, Maria Loades, Suzanne Human, Hermine Gericke, Gerrit Laning, Martin Kidd, Paul Stallard 13 July 2023


A description highlighting the psychosocial problems experienced by learners in three secondary schools in the Western Cape   Philip Geldenhuys, Annemarie Youngleson June 2014