The Tanzania RCP Mental Wellness Initiative

Support a New Vision of Mental Wellness in Tanzanian Villages

Share your learned and lived experience with mothers, fathers, students, teachers and community leaders.

The Mental Wellness Initiative is a cornerstone element of the Tanzania Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP) in providing behavioral, emotional and psychosocial support to parents and the wider community, with the end goal of improving the health, development and vitality of children. An expanding goal is to optimize women’s mental health and protection from violence; thereby elevating their dignity, security, family cohesiveness, educational opportunities, earning capacity, lifestyle choices and overall social status.  Service work targets depression, anxiety and trauma; widespread gender-based violence (GBV); teen and adult alcohol abuse; and suicidal ideation.

Short-term volunteers assist in all aspects of daily and weekly mental wellness projects.  Psycho-educational workshops are conducted on alcohol abuse, family conflict, depression and anxiety, and recovering from trauma. Monthly in-home depression assessments are conducted by trained RCP caregivers with referrals to the general clinic for treatment.  Village-based interpersonal-therapy (IPT) groups are coordinated by trained RCP Caregivers.  Mental health awareness sessions are presented at village meetings and church gatherings.

As the family’s primary caregivers, vulnerable women in the Ukwega Ward require compassionate mental health interventions to stabilize their lives and care for their children. The RCP Mental Wellness Initiative addresses the most widespread needs.

Read about the development of the Reaching Children’s Potential Mental Wellness Initiative on our blog.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly included mental health and substance abuse in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #3: “Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Wellbeing,” marking the first time world leaders recognized mental health as a global priority. Yet, up to 85% of people in poor rural areas receive no mental health treatment. SDG #5 states: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Eliminating gender-based violence, the most pervasive human rights violations in the world today, is a priority. Based on World Bank data for Tanzania, more than 20 percent of all women aged 15-49 years have experienced physical violence in the last year (40 percent in their lifetime).

Volunteers are Essential

As the endlessly renewable resource fueling community projects, our volunteers provide personal expertise and the “helping hands” mostly unavailable to local people.  Every service team works under the direction of local leaders and staff to ensure identified mental health needs are appropriately addressed with cultural sensitivity.  Every volunteer is invited to share their stories and expertise. Every volunteer can advance long-term, community-wide mental wellness.  Every volunteer makes a difference!

More than 70% of Tanzania’s 62 million residents live in the rural areas, with about 36% surviving below the national poverty level. It stands to reason, then, that access to mental health services is severely limited. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 0.04 psychiatrists and 0.005 psychologists per 100,000 population are available to the country’s people, with the fewest accessible in rural areas. Nationally, only 124 mental health outpatient facilities and 662 psychiatric beds in general hospitals are available to the entire nation, according to WHO’s Mental health Atlas.

Some mental health stresses are greater in the Iringa Region, where Global Volunteers works, than nationally.  As the reasons for this is not fully understood, we collaborate with the Iringa District Health Office, Iringa University, Iringa Referral Hospital, and Ilula Referral Hospital to reciprocally share information and resources. Our 2023 Ukwega Ward Community Mental Health Needs Assessment confirmed that critical areas for intervention, treatment and education align with District priorities.

The WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, (extended to 2030) endorsed by all national Ministries of Health, lays out four objectives:

  • Strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health.
  • Provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings.
  • Implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health.
  • Strengthen information systems, evidence and research for mental health.

To date, the African continent is behind others in meeting these objectives. For example, only 21% of African countries have recent mental health legislation compared to a global average of 40%, and only 27% have resourced policies, compared to 53% in the rest of the world. The mental health workforce is a tenth of the global average (0.9 professionals per 100,000 population vs. 9 per 100,000 population).