Simone Honikman

Ashoka Fellow
Cape Town, South Africa
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Simone Honikman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Pregnancy and the postnatal period is a psychologically distressing period for many women, particularly those facing other social challenges in their lives like poverty, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. The burden of maternal mental illnesses (including pre and post-natal depression and anxiety) in low-income communities is very high. When they are left untreated, the results can be fatal and contribute to maternal mortality and poor maternal and child health. In response to this problem, Simone started the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP), which was registered in 2008 as a fully operational nonprofit organization. PMHP’s vision is to ensure that all women have access to high quality perinatal mental health care (during pregnancy and one year after delivery) as a regular service integrated into the public health system.

Simone’s idea is built on four main components (screening, counseling, referral and training), which together form the foundation of an innovative model for maternal mental healthcare. Based on strategic partnerships with public healthcare centers, the model ensures that 100 percent of women visiting public hospitals for ante and post-natal healthcare get access to maternal mental healthcare as well. Thus, PMHP’s activities are physically and operationally embedded into healthcare centers to ensure a holistic perinatal healthcare package through public health institutions. The screening process is done hand in hand by PMHP and the healthcare center’s midwives and nurses who are specifically trained by PMHP to understand the symptoms and risk factors for maternal mental health illnesses. Those women identified as ‘at risk’ or who present symptoms of mental health illnesses are referred for counseling that is provided by professional counselors employed by PMHP. This is structured to provide individualized emotional support and enable the patient to understand the context of her mental health problems and explore practical solutions for coping with them. This ensures the patient has the right mindset, knowledge and support system to deal with risk factors in the environment and the symptoms of mental health disorders.

Simone understands that there are different social problems that either cause, or make pregnant women vulnerable to, mental health illnesses in poverty stricken communities. Consequentially, PMHP has developed partnerships with various public and citizen sector organizations (HIV/AIDS clinics, psychiatrists, religious and community leaders, gender-based violence organizations, various alcohol and drug support groups) that refer the patients that need assistance to PMHP. This referral renews the patients’ hope because they understand that there is practical help available to them.

The model also includes a training component in addition to the screening, counseling and referral system. Simone trains health care workers (public, private and students) on perinatal mental health issues and how they can be effectively dealt with. Furthermore, through research and advocacy, Simone creates awareness of the existence of perinatal mental health illnesses and how they can be dealt with in communities and within healthcare departments. PMHP currently works directly in four public obstetrics healthcare centers in the Western Cape, reaching almost 55,000 pregnant women. Furthermore, Simone has developed operational guidelines that she uses to train other public healthcare centers in South Africa and beyond (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Lesotho) to adopt her model and incorporate it into their systems. This ensures rapid scaling even without PMHP’s physical presence.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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