Take my breath away

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are Indian

These charts show how eye-wateringly polluted India cities are.

Delhi is the reigning king of polluted cities in the world, of that there is little doubt. So grimy is its air today that there are calls for closure of schools when pollution levels are particularly harmful. According to a recent World Health Organization report, the capital has six times the levels of airborne particulate matter than are considered safe. Other cities in the country are only slightly better off. The same WHO report reveals that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.

The report ranked cities after studying their air for the presence of harmful gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, besides particulate matter 10 and 2.5.

Particulate matter (or small airborne particles) is among the most detrimental of these pollutants. Studies link it with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.

“Particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter pose the greatest threat to human health,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre of Science and Environment. “They can not only get deep into a person’s lungs but can also enter the blood stream.”

Smaller particles

The WHO advises that fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre. At the top of the WHO ranking, Delhi had 153 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre. Not far behind were Patna with 149 micrograms, Gwalior with 144 micrograms and Raipur with 134 micrograms. The other Indian cities in the list included Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Firozabad, Amritsar and Ludhiana.

Of the seven non-Indian cities in the rankings, three were from Pakistan. Karachi had 117 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre, Peshawar had 111 micrograms, and Rawalpindi had 107 micrograms.



Bigger particles

Though airborne particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter (called PM10) are less hazardous than their smaller cousins, they are nevertheless harmful. In Delhi, according to the WHO report released in May, PM10 levels stood at 486 micrograms per cubic metre. In Gwalior, the levels were 329 micrograms and in Raipur 305 micrograms.

Lucknow (219 micrograms), Firozabad (219 micrograms), Kanpur (212 micrograms), Amritsar (210 micrograms) and Ludhiana (207 micrograms) also feature on the list.

Asian cities

Compared to other major cities in Central and Southeast Aisa, Delhi is way ahead on the list.



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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.