Consider the state of mental health acceptance and treatment in your society. Is mental illness a stigmatized issue? Is it easy to afford treatment? Are individuals with depression, psychosis, bulimia or other illnesses just as likely to find work as people without mental illness? In many communities, both wealthy and poor, the answer to these questions is often “no.” There are many people throughout the world with mental illness or other disabilities that cannot afford full-time, in-patient treatment, but they need more support than basic outpatient treatment in order to recover and live healthy lives. Daniela (Dani) and Gabriela (Gaby), the co-founders of Rubicon Social, are working to find a creative solution that meets the needs of people with mental illness, even in impoverished neighborhoods.

How it works: Training psychotherapeutic companions in Argentina

Rubicon Social 4Rubicon Social is a capacity-building program that ultimately serves people with mental illness within Bajo Flores, one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dani and Gaby were both working in the field of mental health treatment, and recognized that the level of support for patients was often too limited. So they launched Rubicon Social to train people to work full-time as “psychotherapeutic companions.” These companions are intended to become an extension of a patient’s outpatient treatment team.They act as a bridge between the patient and the rest of the community by accompanying the patient through typical activities of daily life, from running errands to reconnecting with friends and family, until the patient is able to live independently. Dani and Gaby have trained Rubicon Social companions to work with patients recovering from a variety of mental challenges, including psychosis, depression, and more.  

In their role as a companion, these trained health workers accompany their patients in multiple environments, including the home, streets, hospital, and even school or the workplace. This accompaniment serves several important functions. First, the patient has support nearby if or when moments of crisis arise. Second, the companion is able to help the patient reintegrate into their social network, including with family, friends, and other members of the community. Finally, the companion can help the patient to navigate daunting bureaucratic processes, from the healthcare system to finding a job. In short, Dani and Gaby are equipping people with the skills to work full-time as companions and, in doing so, they are implementing a solution that increases the support available to mental health patients.

Looking ahead, Gaby and Dani believe this approach could be applied more broadly. For example, companions could be supporting patients with Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress, addiction, autism, eating disorders, and more. In this sense, the source of funding for the companion program could vary depending on the location and the mental illness, with government health programs, nonprofits, and private individuals each covering the cost of services depending on the context.

Getting started: Equipping psychotherapeutic companions with the right skills

Dani and Gaby found that development of the curriculum was the most difficult step they faced in launching Rubicon Social. They had to determine the best way to structure and teach the content, especially considering that each mental illness has its own specific nuances and considerations. Dani and Gaby wanted to make sure that in addition to medical knowledge, the companions were also equipped with the right cultural awareness and perspective. As a result, developing tailored, functional content and teaching it to the companions required significant time and energy to get right.

Rubicon Social 2Once Gaby and Dani formulated Rubicon Social as an established, complete product, they entered Desafío Bajo Flores, an innovation challenge co-sponsored by the Buenos Aires city government and social enterprise incubators including Ashoka and Socialab. After winning the challenge, they used initial investment and incubator support to boost Rubicon Social’s momentum. While still in the very early stages of the project, Gaby and Dani are hoping to refine and enhance the Rubicon Social training program and apply it to regions outside of Argentina in the future. Since each country has its own unique healthcare regulations and approach to public health financing, Gaby and Dani may need to continue focusing on the creation of training content that is specific to both local culture and legislation.  

Words for the World

As Gaby and Dani reflect back on their experience developing and launching Rubicon Social, they hope that more social entrepreneurs have the ability to pursue their ideas in the future. They feel it is important that communities work to create a favorable environment in which people with ideas—real, thoughtful ideas—have the opportunity to bring them to life and produce meaningful social change.

To learn more about Rubicon Social, contact either Gaby at lic.gsouto@gmail.com or Dani at dantonaccio@gmail.com.

Daniela Antonaccio and Gabriela Souto: Embedding mental health treatment into the community

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