To support this work, IHLFS funded a link between Zomba Mental Hospital and North Yorkshire and York NHS Community and Mental Health Services. The project has designed and delivered a 3-day training programme tailored to the cultural and service needs of 300 Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) from 12 health centres across Zomba District in southern Malawi.
As one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi has limited resources to care for people experiencing a range of common mental health problems, and there is great need for a scaling-up of services – especially community-based.
As village-based health workers, active in attending to the public health needs of the population, HSAs are ideally placed to respond to the mental health needs at community level. This represents a new role for the HSAs, where they are required to identify and respond to the needs of people experiencing problems such as loss and despair, severe worry, thoughts of suicide or anxiety caused by unusual beliefs or experiences.
In the last year, the 300 trained HSAs in the project have worked with 132 new individuals experiencing various forms of mental health problems, and have facilitated more than 500 community mental health awareness talks or events.
Three months after completing the third day of training, an HSA described how their mental health promoting interventions were challenging the stigma and discrimination frequently faced by people experiencing mental health problems:
“...we are speaking with people in the villages, and things are changing compared to the past. Previously people were being mistreated; they were bound, beaten and so forth as they were useless. Now people have the understanding that such problems can befall anyone, even someone who is all right.”
IHLFS Team, British Council Malawi