Lucious Zimba is a teacher at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School in Malawi. He says, “We are … building the youth to be the next leaders. So, if we have youth who are mentally ill, who are stressed, how do we have good leaders?”
Farm Radio International met Mr. Zimba when working on a youth mental health project in Malawi and Tanzania. Depression and mental illness affect youth regardless of where they live. And youth mental health is often ignored.
Farm Radio International’s project sought to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, build mental health literacy, and improve access to effective care and treatment.
In Tanzania, FRI worked with Radio 5 to broadcast a program called Positive Mood, and in Malawi worked with MCB2 to air Nkhawa Njee: Yonse Bo (Depression-free, life is cool).
The hosts and producers of these programs combined hip hop beats, celebrity interviews, and a radio soap opera to create an entertaining 30-minute program that young people were excited about. Approximately half a million young people in Malawi tuned in to Nkhawa Njee!
The radio show hosts engaged their audience through the radio programs, but also through live events. Young people tuned in through in-school and out-of-school listening clubs, as well as listening to the radio programs on their own. MCB2 also hosted two Open Days on Mental Health to bring together youth and the radio show hosts to perform raps, dramas, songs, dances, and motivational speeches. As a result, youth not only learned about mental health, but were offered the opportunity to talk about it with their peers, teachers, and health professionals.
Popular radio DJ and rapper Dick Shumba, aka “The Diktator,” was the host of the program on MCB2. He said: “[The show] is very important. Before this, there has never been any program to do with mental health in Malawi. Mental health and depression issues have been neglected for so long, yet they affect a lot of people.”
Farm Radio International and TeenMentalHealth.Org created a documentary film on how the power of radio can address rarely discussed challenges facing developing countries: mental illness and youth mental health. The documentary explores the impact of the two radio shows and school-based listening clubs on mental health literacy and youth engagement in Malawi and Tanzania.
Watch the documentary, Mental Health on Air, and read profiles of the amazing students, teachers, radio broadcasters, and others involved in the Integrated youth mental health project.
This Spotlight was originally published in October 2015.