Applying systems thinking to task shifting for mental health using lay providers: a review of the evidence

Glob Ment Health (Camb). 2017 Jul 31:4:e14. doi: 10.1017/gmh.2017.15. eCollection 2017.


Objective: This paper seeks to review the available evidence to determine whether a systems approach is employed in the implementation and evaluation of task shifting for mental health using lay providers in low- and middle-income countries, and to highlight system-wide effects of task-shifting strategies in order to better inform efforts to strength community mental health systems.

Methods: Pubmed, CINAHL, and Cochrane Library databases were searched. Articles were screened by two independent reviewers with a third reviewer resolving discrepancies. Two stages of screens were done to ensure sensitivity. Studies were analysed using the World Health Organization's building blocks framework with the addition of a community building block, and systems thinking characteristics to determine the extent to which system-wide effects had been considered.

Results: Thirty studies were included. Almost all studies displayed positive findings on mental health using task shifting. One study showed no effect. No studies explicitly employed systems thinking tools, but some demonstrated systems thinking characteristics, such as exploring various stakeholder perspectives, capturing unintended consequences, and looking across sectors for system-wide impact. Twenty-five of the 30 studies captured elements other than the most directly relevant building blocks of service delivery and health workforce.

Conclusions: There is a lack of systematic approaches to exploring complexity in the evaluation of task-shifting interventions. Systems thinking tools should support evidence-informed decision making for a more complete understanding of community-based systems strengthening interventions for mental health.

Keywords: Community; health system; mental health; systems thinking; task-shifting.

Publication types

  • Review