A psychiatry professor’s mental health initiative in Zimbabwe has inspired a project to promote mental wellbeing at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The project will aim to raise awareness of mental health issues among football fans and players, and to provide support to those who may be struggling with their mental health. It is hoped that the project will make a positive contribution to the mental health of people around the world.
A new therapy model from Zimbabwe is being exported to the upcoming 2022 Qatar World Cup in order to cast a spotlight on global mental health. This innovative approach to mental health care has already helped countless individuals in Zimbabwe, and its proponents believe that it could make a real difference for people all over the world.
The therapy model is based on the idea of “ubuntu”, which is a traditional African concept that emphasises the interconnectedness of all human beings. This philosophy is reflected in the way that the therapy is structured, with a focus on community and collective healing. The hope is that by bringing this model to the global stage, it will help to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage more people to seek out help.
The Friendship Bench project is made up of 32 benches that have been installed in prominent locations around Doha, including tournament stadiums. Each bench represents one of the national teams competing in the tournament.
The project aims to promote discussion around mental health and offer advice on ways to promote mental wellbeing through sport and physical activity.
The initiative is part of the Sports and Health programme led by the World Health Organization and is in collaboration with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH).
“The Friendship Benches project is a powerful reminder of the importance of how health, from mental to physical health, is precious and common to all people and nations, and how, through sports, people can reach out to others as fellow human beings in the spirit of solidarity and support,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Several Qatar-based artists contributed to the design of the Friendship Benches, including Faras Almeer, Health Policy Research Officer at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH). Almeer spearheaded the project, which aimed to create a safe and welcoming space for students of all abilities to socialise and play together. The Friendship Benches are now a staple in many schools across Qatar, and have been praised for their ability to promote inclusion and acceptance.
The inspiration from Zimbabwe
The concept of the Friendship Bench was created by Zimbabwean Psychiatry professor Dixon Chibanda. The idea is that by having a designated place for people to sit and talk, it will help to reduce the stigma around mental health and make it more openly discussed. The benches are also a way to provide support for those who may be feeling lonely or isolated.
Chibanda’s project, which began in 2006, offers affordable mental health therapy to compatriots across the country who cannot afford expensive treatments. Mental health sessions are carried out through lay health workers, colloquially referred to as “grandmothers.”
Chibanda’s mental health project started with just 14 grandmothers in Zimbabwe’s oldest and poorest township, Mbare, and has now expanded to nearly 1,000 benches and over 1,500 grandmothers in different localities.
The project has had a profound impact on the mental health of the Zimbabwean people, and has helped to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in the country.
The Friendship Benches have helped bridge a shortage of professional healthcare workers in Zimbabwe, which has only 14 psychiatrists, 150 clinical psychologists and less than 500 psychiatric nurses serving a population of 16 million people. The benches provide a safe and confidential space for students to talk to each other about their mental health and wellbeing, and to seek help and support from trained peer mentors. The project has been so successful that it is being rolled out to other schools in Zimbabwe and across Africa.
Other countries have adopted the friendship bench model including Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and the US – where 60,000 people in the Bronx and Harlem areas have accessed the therapy. The benches provide a safe and welcoming space for people to come and talk about their problems, and to receive support and advice from trained volunteers. The benches have been shown to be an effective way of reducing anxiety and depression, and improving mental health and wellbeing.
The project applied in Qatar aligns with FIFA’s #ReachOut campaign, designed to raise awareness of the symptoms of mental health conditions.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “Through the #REACHOUT campaign, we acknowledged the importance of speaking with family and friends to foster positive mental health. The Friendship Benches project is another vehicle to raise awareness about mental health conditions and to encourage a conversation, which could save a life.
FIFA is proud to partner with the World Health Organization and Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health to put football at the service of society and to leave a lasting legacy in Qatar for residents and visitors.
Through this partnership, FIFA and its partners are working to create a healthier, more active society in Qatar by using football as a tool to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices. In addition, the partnership is also working to raise awareness of important health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and to promote healthy eating and active living more generally.
The partnership between FIFA and the World Health Organization is an important part of FIFA’s commitment to sustainable development, and we are very pleased to be able to work together to promote health.
Agencies contributed to this report