‘Astronomy for Mental Health’ Project Engages People With Various Cognitive Abilities

The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) is on a mission to use astronomy, its resources, skills, and people to make the world a better place, regardless of one’s background or cognitive abilities. Recently, the team, led by OAD Fellow Dominic Vertue, conducted interactive and exploratory astronomy sessions at three Community Mental Health and Psychiatry Foundation (CMHPF) venues in Cape Town, South Africa: Huis Sonnop, Huis El Roi, and Huis Bowker. Each session focused on engaging participants with different cognitive abilities and interests, showcasing the incredible power of astronomy to inspire people. The activities included coloring exercises to evaluate motor skills and discussions to evaluate comprehension and were part of the OAD’s ‘Astronomy for mental health’ project.

At Huis Sonnop, the team discovered that the participants were highly functional, allowing us to explore a broad range of outreach tools and activities. These individuals were captivated by the visual and tactile elements of the program, demonstrating the effectiveness of interactive learning. The Huis El Roi session, on the other hand, required us to adapt our approach. Despite half the participants being non-verbal, they showed enthusiasm for astronomy and science. Finally, at Huis Bowker, we encountered a diverse group in terms of cognitive abilities. While they could engage with basic activities, we realized the importance of incorporating tangible teaching aids that will allow them to hold, touch, and see.

The activities with the CMHPF participants is a reminder that the awe and beauty of the stars can spark curiosity and excitement in everyone, regardless of their abilities. And as we continue to develop our activities, we will strive to make astronomy inclusive and accessible for all.

If you have any ideas, or activities, or would like to get involved please contact us at mentalhealth@astro4dev.org.