Background: Over the past four decades, there has been increasing interest in Self-Help Groups, by mental health services users and caregivers, alike. Research in high-income countries suggests that participation in SHGs is associated with decreased use of inpatient facilities, improved social functioning among service users, and decreased caregiver burden. The formation of SHGs has become an important component of mental health programmes operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in low-income countries. However, there has been relatively little research examining the benefits of SHGs in this context.
Methods: Qualitative research with 18 SHGs, five local non-governmental organisations, community mental health nurses, administrators in Ghana Health Services, and discussions with BasicNeeds staff.
Results: SHGs have the potential to serve as key components of community mental health programmes in low-resource settings. The strongest evidence concerns how SHGs provide a range of supports, e.g., social, financial, and practical, to service users and caregivers. The groups also appear to foster greater acceptance of service users by their families and by communities at large. Membership in SHGs appears to be associated with more consistent treatment and better outcomes for those who are ill.
Discussion: This study highlights the need for longitudinal qualitative and quantitative evaluations of the effect of SHGs on clinical, social and economic outcomes of service users and their carers.
Conclusions: The organisation of SHGs appears to be associated with positive outcomes for service users and caregivers. However, there is a need to better understand how SHGs operate and the challenges they face.