• Carol Wogrin

CATS provide peer-led counselling for mental health

On World Mental Health Day, we celebrate the team of 1043 Zvandiri Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS) in Zimbabwe, and a rapidly growing number, almost 400, across Mozambique, Tanzania, Eswatini, Uganda, Nigeria, Namibia, Ghana and Rwanda. These young people provide mental health services for over 65,000 children, adolescents, and young people living with HIV, in their homes, clinics, communities, and via mobile health. Through the provision of peer-to-peer counselling, mental health and HIV literacy, skills building, they promote well-being by providing caring, connection, information and support to their peers.

Depression, which is the 3rd leading cause of illness and disability in adolescents globally, is higher among adolescents and young people living with HIV. HIV related stigma makes life difficult for CAYP living with HIV and creates mental health problems. The added stigma around mental health problems keeps people silent. The silence means adolescents and young people are shouldering some of the hardest challenges life can deliver alone. The CATS are working to break this isolation by providing support to their peers. They are trained to offer psychosocial support and screen for depression and other mental health conditions. In addition to their peer to peer support, they link those found to have a greater need for additional mental health services.

Through their commitment and determination, the CATS have continued to reach out to their peers during times of emergency. Following Cyclone Idai they reached out to peers in some of the hardest-hit areas. During COVID-19 they made the required shift to virtual support, through individual connection and online support groups.

Through their role modelling and support extended to their peers, as well as caregivers, these dedicated young people, who themselves live with many challenges, are improving the mental and physical health (documented by research) of many thousands of vulnerable children, adolescents, and young people in Zimbabwe and a growing number of countries across the continent. We take today to pause and salute them.

Click here to watch our latest animation about COVID and Mental Health developed by the young people at Zvandiri and made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development.

Listen to Nyasha’s story . Dealing with stigma and rejection throughout her life, she struggled with her mental health but through Zvandiri she was referred for specialist support by her CATS! This and other digital stories were made with the support of ViiV Healthcare and the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS.

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