Community health worker-delivered counselling for common mental disorders among chronic disease patients in South Africa: A feasibility study

Bronwyn Myers*, Petal Petersen-Williams, Claire Van Der Westhuizen, Crick Lund, Carl Lombard, John A. Joska, Naomi S. Levitt, Christopher Butler, Tracey Naledi, Peter Milligan, Dan J. Stein, Katherine Sorsdahl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To examine the feasibility and acceptability of integrating a 'designated' approach to community health worker (CHW)-delivered mental health counselling (where existing CHWs deliver counselling in addition to usual duties) and a 'dedicated' approach (where additional CHWs have the sole responsibility of delivering mental health counselling) into chronic disease care. Design: A feasibility test of a designated and dedicated approach to CHW-delivered counselling and qualitative interviews of CHWs delivering the counselling. Setting: Four primary healthcare clinics in the Western Cape, South Africa allocated to either a designated or dedicated approach and stratified by urban/rural status. Participants: Forty chronic disease patients (20 with HIV, 20 with diabetes) reporting hazardous alcohol use or depression. Interviews: with seven CHWs. Intervention Three sessions of structured mental health counselling. Main outcome measures: We assessed feasibility by examining the proportion of patients who were willing to be screened, met inclusion criteria, provided consent, completed counselling and were retained in the study. Acceptability of these delivery approaches was assessed through qualitative interviews of CHWs. Results: Regardless of approach, a fair proportion (67%) of eligible patients were willing to receive mental health counselling. Patients who screened positive for depression were more likely to be interested in counselling than those with hazardous alcohol only. Retention in counselling (85%) and the study (90%) was good and did not differ by approach. Both dedicated and designated CHWs viewed the counselling package as highly acceptable but requested additional training and support to facilitate implementation. Conclusions: Dedicated and designated approaches to CHW-delivered mental health counselling were matched in terms of their feasibility and acceptability. A comparative efficacy trial of these approaches is justified, with some adjustments to the training and implementation protocols to provide further support to CHWs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere024277
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


  • alcohol
  • chronic disease
  • community health worker
  • depression
  • mental health counselling
  • South Africa


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