Sunday, Jul 17, 2022 07:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jul 17, 2022 02:16 [IST]

Mental and environmental health


An NGO exploring various perspectives of mental and environmental health through holistic approach in schools and colleges across Kolkata
Part I: Mental Health
Mental health is an important global concern developing  in both developed as well as  under developed countries. WHO has issued a warning that this silent killer is projected to impact one out of every five person on the planet in the next thirty to fifty years. Hence, it is important for us to understand and explore the challenges of mental health impacting our lives; and develop specific strategies to deal with it. One of the most important aspect of dealing with mental health from the perspective of various societies across the Indian subcontinent is the traditional stigma attached with any kind of mental issues and ailments. Our society is extremely negligent, unsympathetic and often extremely vulgar and violent towards individuals with mental disabilities and challenges.
It is quite unfortunate that societies across developing and under developed countries have a strong negative association with mental health in general possibly due to lack of education, awareness, sensitivity and empathy. Research indicates that in these backward societies (including India), mental health is highly neglected within the limited medical infrastructure available for large growing populations. Furthermore, social taboos and stigma, superstitions, religious beliefs and unscientific management of those suffering from negative mental health get little or no care or medication both from the government as well as non-government or charity organizations.
India is no different in these aspects from other economically poor, socially backward and politically unstable countries across the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Similar mismanagement regarding mental health issues have been reported also from economically backward East European countries and Russia too where even basic medical facilities and amenities are at stake. Thus the situation with respect to mental health, management is significantly lagging behind in the vast part of our planet with few million people suffering from various stages and forms of mental health with little or almost no care, counselling or treatment.
Under these circumstances, a newly formed  NGO by the name of ECHO (Education Counselling and Helping Organization) based on Kolkata (West Bengal) has come up with a simple, target population based customized education and  awareness programs in the form of 1-7 days workshop series. They have been specifically highlighting the scientific management of mental health from a complete holistic approach.
The workshops organized by ECHO include both online and offline modes in a blended format.
The highly interactive lectures and workshops deal with mental health from a non-medical and no synthetic drug based approach from a holistic health perspective. The presentations covered in very simple non-technical terms in explaining the audience what is mental health, what are the symptoms of early signs of negative mental health, ways to accept the challenges mental health with positivity and the various strategic approaches necessary in dealing with mental health under an individual or community based current circumstances and acceptable limitations with a highly positive holistic approach.
The results has been phenomenal at both senior citizens, adults and school and college children level. The audience readily participated in both English and vernacular (Bengali and Hindi) languages with highly informative question-answer sessions. ECHO resource persons conducted these programs for various age groups across the society and were highly trained in responding to both simple and difficult questions.
One of the important aspect and success of such camps and workshops conducted by ECHO has been that the participants representing various age groups, diverse mindset opened up, shared their experiences with individual mental health challenges and how they have dealt with it so far.
Several strategies were discussed such as partnering with close relatives and friends to cope up with mental challenges, introducing discipline, proper diet and physical workouts as well as positive engagements in various facets of life such as art and literature, adult education, continuing education, life king education and developing self help groups were critically explored. Working  towards establishing a dedicated buddy system or partner system or support system for future social, cultural, economic and medical help from one another within such self help group was encouraged.
Various simple free hand non-gym based physical training, yoga and pranayam (breathing) techniques were also taught among great enthusiasm of the participants. Emphasis was laid on positive engagement with life to avoid getting isolated and directing participants towards creative and holistic mode of treating mental health. Nutritionists discussed the importance of age appropriate balanced diet for the participants to help boosting their immunity, improved hygienic practices and prevention against communicable diseases.
ECHO has now been receiving numerous requests for conducting such mental health awareness camps not only from schools ans colleges, senior citizen forums or other NGOs or self help groups; but also from local corporate groups who want to use this ECHO model system to educate and enable and empower their employees for better health, alertness, presence of mind, mindfulness as well as in building positive attitude and to increase their confidence levels.
Part II: Environmental Health
ECHO has not restricted itself only towards mental health education and awareness camps. The organization has been playing a leading role towards bee and other natural (biological) pollinator conservation, education and awareness campaign among school and college students.
Several online as well offline programs were conducted with interactive sessions for students to perform and work together in understanding the various anthropogenic and natural factors impacting the global native bee and honey bee populations, decline and extinction of various species, remediation measures that can be adopted to help towards the successful conservation, importance and sensitivity associated with bee conservation.
The programs included small one act plays, short dramas performed by students following ecosystem sensitization, several competitions such as sit and draw, essay, story and poem writings, extempore speech delivery, group discussions together on various ecological and environmental themes. The reason for mandatory student participation has been to make sure that they understood the basic concepts to the core and care was taken to monitor if they have been able to apply, explore and expand on the information provided through colourful presentations and erudite student-friendly lectures. The student response at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education has been exciting. Post COVID-19 students joining the ECHO program were overjoyed to participate in such a new interactive curriculum; and has been endorsed and strongly supported by the concerned school, college and university authorities.
Most of the offline workshops were conducted in packed classrooms and auditorium with participants including students, teachers, professors as well as non-teaching staff members. It has been therefore a great success for ECHO in their attempt to reach students at various levels. The ecological sensitivity camps and workshops conducted were precisely custom designed and delivered according to the age and maturity of participating students as also keeping in mind their urban or rural settings. Hence, meticulous work was involved in preparing the study materials in English and/or vernacular languages to successfully percolate the students breaking their sociology-cultural barriers. Online workshops were attended with groups of around a maximum of 50 participants.
The idea has been to encourage discussions and stimulate environment related questions among the students to make them better understand the concepts of ecosystem, biological conservation of forests and wildlife, endangered species, pollinator interactions and their conservation, biodiversity, Climate Change, air, water, land and marine pollution to mention only a handful.
A special one day excursion and nature camp was conducted at Jhorkhali in South 24 Parganas district at the outer edge of the Sunderbans adjoining the Matla river. The participants were a mixed batch of female students from various Humanities and Social Science disciplines of the Netaji Nagar College for Women (Calcutta University) from South Kolkata. The principal objectives has been to explore and understand nature from being a part of it rather than a class room based participation in understanding the sensitivity of the local endangered mangrove ecosystem.
Open air classes were conducted inside the Jhorkhali Nature Recreation Park with various short interactive sessions in discussing issues such as depletion of mangrove forest and ecosystem, conservation of local biodiversity with Royal Bengal tiger and salt water crocodiles being the apex predator of the ecosystem, remedial measures to conserve the Sunderban region and future prospects, challenges and opportunities in opening Sunderban as a premier tourist attraction centre for  the state of West Bengal, ecotourism versus conventional tourism, sustainability, human-animal conflicts, socio-cultural unique patterns of this region abs their relationship and dependence on the mangrove forest.  Around 50+ college students along with guests, resource persons, ECHO members and volunteers attended this excellent nature camp and workshop. I have been fortunate enough to participate in ECHO programs as a resource person.
Thus, ECHO has slowly transformed into an ORGANIZATION FOR EDUCATION COUNSELLING  AND HELPING through their continuous work in supporting mental and environmental health by working in different sections of the society. I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the all associated with ECHO – Ms. Rotraut RoyChowdhury, Ms. Sushmita Pandey Chatterjee, Ms. Sutapa Bardhan, Prof. Jayanta Basu, Ms. N T Rupa, Ms. Santwana Basu, Ms. Manasi Dhar Chaki, Mr. Amod Dasgupta, Ms. Sarmistha Nidharia, Soumen Pandey, Dr. Kajal Krsihna Banik, Dr. Sukanya Banerjee Banik, Ms. Mallika Sengupta and a large team of volunteers, students and senior citizens and a wide network of highly experienced resource persons from all works of life interested in  working towards developing a better society for tomorrow.
Few other organizations also joined hands with ECHO in this noble effort and they include Dr. Subhabrata Roy Chowdhury (The Science Association of Bengal), Mr. Dipak Dan (Gobordanga Gobeshona Porishod), Prof. Unus Molla (International Business, Cultural and Environment Center) and Prof. Stephen Cheriyl (Center for Multidisciplinary Research and Actions, Kolkata chapter). Together ECHO has set an example in Kolkata and adjoining areas on dedicated work for creating a better society. I extend my heartiest best wishes and congrats to all ECHO members and volunteers for their commendable and exemplary job for attempting to create a better society.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi