Transformative Education
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The BasicNeeds Mental Health and Development programme

Chris Underhill MBE

BasicNeeds is an international Non-Governmental Organisation (iNGO) working to improve the lives of people living with mental illness and epilepsy. BasicNeeds developed a new approach called the Model for Mental Health and Development, to accommodate lack of national government action in this area of healthcare. This new model of intervention is effective, locally owned, can be replicated and is transferable. BasicNeeds is predominantly focused on low and middle income countries, working right across the system: with individuals and communities, local and national governments, and international organisations.

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Mental illness and epilepsy can be both a cause and a consequence of poverty and ill-health, often interfering in substantial ways with the ability of affected people to function in families and society. It can also be a human rights and human security issue: with people living with mental illness and epilepsy experiencing daily acts of cruelty and denial of their basic rights; preventing them from exercising choice, pursuing opportunities and planning for the future.

By working in partnership with people living with mental illness, rather than simply for them, BasicNeeds has built a unique and effective model for recovery and sustained good mental health. The model uses meaningful work and community support, as well as treatment to help improve lives.


BasicNeeds’ objectives:

  1. Capacity building: Identifying, mobilising, sensitising and training mental health and development stakeholders;
  2. Community mental health: Enabling effective and affordable community oriented mental health treatment services;
  3. Livelihoods: Facilitating opportunities for affected individuals to gain or regain the ability to work, earn and contribute to family and community life;;
  4. Research: Generating evidence from the practice of mental health and development;;
  5. Collaboration:  Forging partnerships with stakeholders who are involved in implementing the model on the ground and/or are responsible for policy and practice decisions to improve mental health care provision.


BasicNeeds’ approach to treatment includes providing medication and psychosocial support in partnership with local governments and Ministries of Health. It is low cost and sustainable because they build the capacity of existing health professionals and services rather than starting from scratch. They also build the capacity of participants by encouraging them to be members of self-help groups and create livelihoods opportunities to support their on-going recovery. Lastly, BasicNeeds reduces stigma by helping the broader community understand what mental illness is.Therefore the level of intervention of BasicNeeds programs go from the individual to the community level.

The geographical scope of the project currently includes China, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lao PDR, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, United States and Vietnam


BasicNeeds uses its own global Monitoring-Quality Assurance-Impact Assessment system building off of routine data collection carried out as part of everyday work. Over the years, BasicNeeds has developed a database of participants who have been through their programmes in order to analyse the impact of the Model through the participant’s lives. This allows us to monitor the reach and impact of their programmes. As of December 2015, over 650,000 people have been through its programmes globally.

BasicNeeds research shows that chances of a long-term recovery are hugely improved by working and from the pride that comes from being an economic asset to your family and community. As people recover from mental illness, they are keen to work or go back to a job they were previously undertaking. Indeed the relationship between poverty and mental ill health in developing countries is very important. BasicNeeds has increased the number of patients able to work. Only during the year of 2015 there was an increase of 27% in the number of participants of BasicNeeds who was able to work.

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