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Not Just Your Lungs, Delhi’s Smog Is Polluting Your Mental Health Too

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Imagine waking up early in the morning to a soft, somewhat dim, sunlight. You look forward to another day and fill your lungs with morning air, but you regret that soon.

You cough as if you are choking on smoke, while your eyes water. You might even feel that the oxygen you breathed in freely has been squeezed out of your lungs. It may seem like you have just enough breath left to get your mask or inhaler, lest you succumb to dizziness.

Step out of your house, and you’ll be forced to squint to see anything besides the haze! You sigh, but who can ascertain if it’s out of despair or breathlessness?

I’m sure those residing in the National Capital Region can relate to this scenario.

The early days of November gifted Delhi a thick blanket of smog. Smog primarily refers to a form of air pollution in which air pollutants intensify fog or haze. It is composed of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone gases, vehicular emissions, agriculture fire’s emissions and residues as well as industrial pollution.

The air laden with all such toxins wreaks havoc on the people who breathe it in. This is the root cause of reduced visibility, aggravated asthma and breathing issues, chest constriction, irritation of eyes, and allergies. However, the list of woes doesn’t end there.

For instance, researchers found out that prolonged exposure to low-quality air results in reduced hedonic happiness – the one that makes you and me smile every now and then! It also reduces the affection we experience and leads to an increase in the symptoms of depression.

A researcher working on the same project claims that deterioration in cognitive performance, as well as productivity, is another entailing consequence. Imagine being scolded for scoring poor grades or not being able to work as much as you could, and having nothing but ‘thin air’ to blame for it!

The University of Washington also discovered that the risks of seasonal affective disorder, anxiety disorder and panic attacks hike in smoggy weather.

Furthermore, even those who are planning to add a new little member to their families need to fret about the smog.

According to fertility expert Sagarika Agrawal, the heavy metals and toxins in the air have a detrimental impact on the hormones in one’s body. The levels of estrogen, testosterone and the sperm count in men take this beating.  As many as 15% of Indian males are reportedly infertile, and the current levels of air pollution might just push the number further up.

Various German researchers provide us with more food for thought by establishing that exposure to air pollutants similar to the ones found in smog can render pregnant ladies susceptible to gestational diabetes.

Additionally, the aforementioned hormonal changes have a negative impact on the element of physical intimacy in relationships. This can turn any smooth-sailing relationship into a rocky road, which again, threatens one’s mental health.

Being cooped up in the safety of our homes doesn’t help all that much either. It creates a sense of isolation and renders one inactive, thus taking a toll on one’s well-being.

Do you think this smog can create only respiratory issues for your child? I’m afraid you’ll have to reconsider that point.

The University of Umea in Sweden established a strong correlation between exposure to air pollutants and a 9% increase in a child’s or adolescent’s chances of being diagnosed with mental health problems.

Professor Randy Nelson, Miss Laura Fonken and the Davis Research Group from Ohio State University established that prolonged exposure to air pollution leads to inflammation in Hippocampus, shorter dendrites and reduced complexity of neurons. This translates into reduced learning and memorising abilities. So the next time you’re worried about your child’s academic performance, know that fumes in thin air are also at fault.

Lastly, even the aged are not spared by the wrath of smog. This deadly weather phenomenon is directly correlated to the development of disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain stroke, hypertension, brain inflammation and diabetes. These are often clubbed under the name ‘senile disorders’ as they commonly plague the elderly.

We may thus conclude that the risks posed towards our physical and mental health, are not as volatile as the smog with which we are grappling at present. The toll that air pollution is taking on us might stay for the years to come. Nevertheless, this isn’t an indication for giving up.

Perhaps all that we can do to save ourselves at present is taking all the precautionary measures possible. We must also safeguard our mental health in the same vein. If you know someone who is suffering due to poor mental health, help them by booking a session with organisations like Mind Solace or more.

Remember: neither a mask nor an inhaler is enough to protect us from the menace of Delhi’s smog anymore.


About the author: Hemangi Chakravarty is the Editor and a Junior Therapist at Mind Solace

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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