Youth around the world face mental health issues, but in some areas resources, support and treatment are inadequate. In Malawi, there was no word for depression in the local language of Chichewa, making it difficult to talk about youth depression. Farm Radio International, in collaboration with teenmentalhealth.org, Farm Radio Trust and the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), is changing that.
This project combines interactive radio programs – Mental Health on Air – with teacher-training, secondary school curriculum materials about mental health and training for primary health providers in the diagnosis and treatment of adolescent depression. The goal is to reduce the stigma about mental health disorders among young people, parents, teachers and communities and increase access to adolescent mental health care.
The Mental Health on Air radio campaigns are supporting these efforts by starting a conversation on the stresses youth face, from relationships to sex and drugs. A radio drama illustrates these stresses and entertains the audience, while a participatory show engages youth and shares their point of view. School-based radio listening clubs ensure youth have a chance to share their views amongst each other as well. Radio is widely available in both Tanzania and Malawi, and the programs are becoming hugely popular among youth, with more than 500,000 tuning in.
Thanks to our partners, teenmeantalhealth.org and WUSC, who have been involved in teacher and primary health care worker training, this project is having a huge impact: 81% of teachers are reporting a positive change in student attitudes towards mental illness and 96% have noticed a positive change in student behaviour. Teachers have also reported they are better equipped to support youth who may have mental health issues. With more than 200 primary health care workers in Malawi and Tanzania trained to screen for, diagnose and treat adolescent depression, youth now have access to the support they need when they need it.
Journalist Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco took a leave of absence from CBC Ottawa to travel to Malawi and Tanzania to document the impact of this project in a documentary called Mental Health on Air. The trailer is below and you can watch the full three-part series here.