Skip to content


Dixon ChabandaDixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist specializing in public health, directs the African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI), focusing on fostering leadership, training, and scientific excellence across Africa. His research is centred on community-oriented mental health solutions aimed at addressing inequalities in mental, neurological, and substance use disorders in the Global South. 

His pioneering work includes the Friendship Bench, a cognitive behaviour therapy-based intervention delivered by trained community grandmothers in Zimbabwe. This approach has shown significant effectiveness through three randomized controlled trials, with key findings published in JAMA (doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.19102). 

Chibanda’s innovative approach, utilizing park benches as spaces for community healing, has been successfully replicated in countries like Malawi, Botswana, Zanzibar, and Vietnam, highlighting his commitment to global health equity. His initiatives have also been adopted by the New York City Health Department’s Thrive program. 

Dixon has shared his insights and experiences in addressing inequalities through community-based mental health solutions in esteemed publications such as The Guardian, LA Times, and the World Economic Forum. He has also delivered a compelling TED talk titled “Why I Train Grandmothers to Treat Depression” (www.ted.dixon.chibanda). 


What are the factors in your background that led you to embark on a career in academia?  

I had a mentor who was at the time an associate professor at Wake Forest university by the name of Avinash Shetty who used to come to Zimbabwe on a regular basis. He really was the first person who I published a paper with who kind of took me by the hand and showed me the steps I needed to put a manuscript together. I had always been a clinician at heart before that and thought writing a paper was extremely complex. 


What considerations influenced your decision to stay in this field?  

The huge absence of locally developed interventions and my need to look into this, particularly after a patient of mine took her own life by suicide made me realise, I needed to find a way of taking mental health care from the institutions/hospitals and into the community…. 


What are your academic and research priorities, and why?  

Equipping non-professionals with the skills to deliver evidence based care in communities across Zimbabwe and beyond because there is a large care gap in the care of people with mental neurological and substance use disorders across Africa. So in other words, I love developing new ideas around how we can use task shifting to reduce the care gap- I guess this is where my journey with Friendship Bench comes in. Something I have been doing for over a decade now. 


How can researchers/academics ensure that partnerships with those we work with in the global south are equitable?  

By acknowledging that they are privileged and using that privilege to level the playing field. Much work still needs to be done in this area. 


What do you hope the impact of your work will be?  

5 million bums on the friendship Bench receiving therapy from one of our grandmothers across the globe by the year 2030 


Recent publications:  

Effect of a brief psychological intervention for common mental disorders on HIV viral suppression: A non-randomised controlled study of the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe.   

Global health reciprocal innovation to address mental health and well-being: strategies used and lessons learnt.   

An Intervention to Improve Mental Health and HIV Care Engagement Among Perinatal Women in Malawi: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. 


Read more about the Friendship Bench Zimbabwe here:

Scroll To Top