What is being done about the depression epidemic in Africa? Holly Elliott from StrongMinds tells us more…

Our written interview series allows our audience to learn more about the charities and organisations that we donate to. Liyaan Khoso is one of our Mental Health artists. Her art questions the norms of society and its impact on an individual's mental stability. Khoso has chosen to direct her work’s donations toward StrongMinds

We were lucky enough to interview Holly Elliott: Media and Engagement Manager at StrongMinds. She tells Artvocate all about the organisation, along with their future plans and current thoughts on our artists and their work!


StrondMinds is a non-profit that treats depression in women and adolescents in low-income communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Can you tell us more about the main focuses and what you do?

Globally, 280 million people are living with depressive disorders, and in low-income countries, approximately 85% receive no effective treatment. StrongMinds is a social enterprise founded in 2013. We provide free group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G) delivered by lay community health workers. StrongMinds is the only organisation scaling a cost-effective solution to the depression epidemic in Africa. We scale our reach through peer-to-peer therapy, tele-therapy, public education, and partnerships.

What is your role within the organisation?

My role is Media & Engagement Manager, which means I oversee all areas of visibility for StrongMinds. That includes media relations, awards, conferences/speaking engagements, thought leadership, and crisis communications management. 

In our Mental Health narrative, we bring focus to the stigmatisation that exists around asking for help with one’s mental health. What do you think about this issue, and have you noticed any progress within it?

Since COVID-19, we have seen some progress in the western world toward lessening the stigmas associated with mental health. In parts of Africa, however, a lot of psycho-education is still needed to inform on depression triggers and symptoms. In many communities where we work in Uganda, there is a misconception that depression is an illness for the privileged, which can prevent people from getting the help that they need. Many of the women we treat for depression report that they thought that living with sadness or guilt was a regular part of struggling through their everyday lives. There is still work to be done to share that depression is not something you have to live with. You can restore your mental health and live a fulfilling life.

What has your organisation been working on recently, and do you have any future events that you’re excited about?

There is so much to be excited about! This year we are celebrating ten years in operation, and we have treated approximately 230,000 women through our free, community-centred, group talk therapy model. Additionally, through partnerships, we have expanded our services into Kenya, Ethiopia, and Cape Town. Finally, we are thrilled to be in the pilot stage of a new StrongMinds America program, looking at how we can best help underserved communities without access to mental health resources/services within the U.S. So many new projects to help us expand our reach!

One of our artists, Liyaan Khoso, is directing her artwork’s charitable donation to your organisation, StrongMinds. Her work Figuring It Out comments on how aspects of current society can cause loneliness and worsen one’s mental health. What are your thoughts on this piece, and do you feel it can help spread awareness for Mental Health?

First, we are so lucky to have talented individuals like Liyaan Khoso using their skills to help support StrongMinds’ work and mission. Her work “Figuring It Out” looks at an interesting aspect of mental health: how loneliness and social isolation can play a critical role in one’s mental health. I love that she uses her work to explore inequities and wants to push policy-level changes through her pieces. That’s just incredible! So inspiring! We have seen that social isolation can certainly impact mental health and depression. Our group talk therapy model works well because of the human bonds formed through shared support and discussion. IPT-G (the type of therapy we use) can be transferred across cultures relatively easily, because of the universality and importance of human attachment.

Liyaan Khoso, Figuring it Out, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 20 cm

Looking at all the artworks on our Artvocate gallery platform, do you have a favourite, and why?

Aside from Liyaan Khoso’s work, refugee rights is an issue that’s very important to me. At StrongMinds, we work with a lot of refugee populations. Uganda is at the centre of Africa’s refugee crisis, bordering the conflict zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The work “Roots uprooted” by Ana Espriella really captures both the challenges and the hope of being displaced and adapting to a new culture. It’s equal parts strong and delicate, which creates a visually interesting balance in the composition. It’s a compelling depiction of determination to thrive despite significant obstacles. 

Ana Espriella, Roots Uprooted (Raíces arrancadas), 2022, digital art



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