Training Health Workers in Therapy Leads to Improvements and Less Medication Use

A Nigerian study finds that more than three-quarters of patients improved, even when only 13% were prescribed medication.


A study that compared two types of mental health interventions for depression in Nigeria found high rates of improvement, including a group that used fewer medication treatments. More than three-quarters of the patients in both groups experienced full remission of depression.

The research was led by Oye Gureje at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. It was published in The Lancet Global Health. An accompanying commentary was written by Bolanle Adeyemi Ola and Olayinka Atilola at Lagos State University, Nigeria.

‚ÄúThese findings provide further evidence that task-shifted interventions for depression delivered by lay health workers are effective, irrespective of the adopted model,‚ÄĚ according to Ola and Atilola.

Photo Credit: USAID in Africa

The study compared two types of training for first-line medical providers in Nigeria. The providers are considered lay health workers. In Nigeria, there are very few doctors, so first-line medical providers typically have 2-3 years of postsecondary education.

In the study, both groups of providers received training in depression treatment, including ‚Äúpsychoeducation and counseling to address stressors and activate social networks, and pharmacotherapy when necessary.‚ÄĚ However, one group (the ‚Äúintervention‚ÄĚ group) also received specific training in how to administer behavioral activation and problem-solving therapy‚ÄĒtwo forms of psychotherapy that follow a manualized structure and are considered to be ‚Äúevidence-based‚ÄĚ for the treatment of depression.

The researchers found that the providers who received the specific training in psychotherapy were less likely to prescribe medications‚ÄĒonly 13% of their depressed patients received medication, compared to 32% of the patients in the other group.

Despite being prescribed less than half as many antidepressants, patients in the intervention group did just as well. The follow-up tests were done 12 months after the study, and the researchers found that 76% of those in the intervention group, and 77% of those in the control group, had experienced ‚Äúremission‚ÄĚ of depression. This means that they scored ‚ȧ 6 on the PHQ-9, a huge improvement from the original average score of 13.7.

According to the commentary authors, critics of global mental health services have raised concerns about exporting a neocolonial model based on Western cultural mores around mental health, which might result in overdiagnosis and overuse of medication, rather than culturally sensitive approaches that value other approaches to mental health.

The authors believe that this study demonstrated that training providers in evidence-based psychotherapy approaches may reduce the reliance on unneeded medications.

‚ÄúIncorporation of and availability of skills in an evidence-based, culturally appropriate, and intensive psychological treatment could potentially reduce the need for and prescription of antidepressants in primary-care settings without compromising effectiveness.‚ÄĚ



Commentary: Ola, B. A., & Atilola, O. (2019). Task-shifted interventions for depression delivered by lay primary health-care workers in low-income and middle-income countries. The Lancet Global Health, 7(7), PE829-E830. (Link)

Article: Gureje, O., Oladeji, B. D., Montgomery, A. A., Bello, T., Kola, L., Ojagbemi, A., . . . Araya, R. (2019). Effect of a stepped-care intervention delivered by lay health workers on major depressive disorder among primary care patients in Nigeria (STEPCARE): a cluster-randomized controlled trial. The Lancet Global Health, 7(7), e951‚Äď60. S2214-109X(19)30148-2 (Link)


  1. ‚ÄúIncorporation of and availability of skills in an evidence-based, culturally appropriate could potentially reduce the need for and prescription of antidepressants in primary-care settings without compromising effectiveness.‚ÄĚ

    Actually, the psychological industries have NO “culturally appropriate, and intensive psychological treatments” that “reduce the need for and prescription of antidepressants in primary-care settings,” in any country. And that is the opposite of their goal, since all the psychologists are DSM psychiatric “bible” code billing believers.

    Which is why a woman can not walk into a well respected Western hospital today, for a totally different concern, and not be confronted by a lunatic “Dr. Paine,” with a prescription pad in hand, and be asked, “Are you depressed?”

    Most the Western doctors, including most the psychologists and psychiatrists, who only care about getting as many people as possible onto the ADHD drugs and antidepressants, because those drug classes create the “bipolar” symptoms, which is very profitable for them.

    And the antipsychotics, which are given to those millions of “bipolar” misdiagnosed, which are the “schizophrenia” drugs. Will, indeed, create both the negative and positive symptoms of “schizophrenia.” The negative symptoms of “schizophrenia” are created via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome. And the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” like “psychosis” and “hallucinations,” are created via antidepressant and/or antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome.

    The doctors don’t want to stop all this massive drugging of the Western children, because “it’s too profitable,” according to a Lutheran pediatrician.

    But the reality is, none of the Western doctors, nor any of the psychologists nor psychiatrists, are out to help anyone, other than themselves, in any country. Almost all the Western doctors, particularly the “mental health” workers, want to create “mental illnesses,” in people for profit, worldwide. Which is sick.

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