Mental Health for Development and Astronomy’s Potential

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This project aims to explore how the inspirational and cultural aspects of astronomy can help to improve the mental well-being of vulnerable communities, such as refugees, as well as other groups negatively affected by the pandemic, including elders, women, youth and migrants. The project will delve into the empowerment potential of astronomy to prevent mental health problems and to enable the fulfillment of human potential. 

In this article, we first discuss the crucial role of mental health for achieving development and, subsequently, the potential astronomy has to contribute to mental well-being.


The importance of mental health for development

Human rights law entitles us [1] to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and well-being for ourselves and for our family. Health is our fundamental human right and is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This definition confirms that mental well-being is an inalienable part of health, though it is still an invisible and highly overlooked aspect of it. Today global efforts for mental health are advocated by the principle of “no health without mental health”

Similar to the definition of health, mental health is not the mere absence of mental disorders, but a state of balance of different factors, within and with the environment. It includes our ability to realize our potential, to cope with the stressors and adversities of life, to live and work effectively and to make contributions to the community. 

Poor mental health impedes human development in many aspects. In addition to the immense suffering and decreased quality of life it causes for individuals, their families and communities, poor mental health can lead to social drift, depriving people of otherwise available opportunities, including education, employment, or building of social relationships. It makes people prone to vulnerabilities, being tightly linked to other diseases, mostly non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, cancer, etc) [2], either leading to them or being affected by them. 

People with mental health issues face widespread violations of their rights and dignity – from inhumane living conditions, abuse, neglect, degrading treatment practices in health facilities to stigma, isolation and marginalization. These violations cause much pain and suffering, constituting a moral challenge for societies. They can be so inhumane to be labeled as “a failure of humanity”.

While certain individuals and groups in society, including people living in poverty, minorities, elders, people in humanitarian emergencies, and other groups, are considered to be at higher risks for mental health issues [3], we can see how global challenges make everyone vulnerable. Currently, the world is faced with the unmet needs of close to 1 billion people with mental health issues, which, given the global challenges, is estimated to expand in the near future, creating new vulnerable groups. 

Mental health issues are increasingly being recognized as a crucial factor for global development. They are seen as a cause as well as a consequence of diseases, vulnerabilities and poverty. 

Diagram showing the factors contributing to poor mental health and consequences on human well-being and development

Mental health issues have a devastating impact on life expectancy and health status of people. Depression alone makes up for 4.3% of the global burden of disease (disability-adjusted life-years) [4]. Recent analysis shows mental disorders in the top ten leading causes of burden worldwide, with no reduction since 1990. It is calculated that by 2030, unipolar depression will be the leading contributor to years lived with disability. 

Global, regional, and national burden of 12 mental disorders in 204 countries and territories, 1990–2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 – The Lancet Psychiatry

Mental health issues are strongly linked to suicide cases. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among young people in high-income countries, and fourth in the world

It is well established how development challenges and adverse socio-economic conditions, including poor access to education and employment, low income, poverty, human rights violations, such as exposure to violence and discriminations can lead to frustration, extreme stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation, contributing to mental health problems. Unaddressed, these problems in their turn, can contribute to drug use, violence, and other negative coping strategies, as well as may lead to poverty, and complete failure of life.


Mental Health on global development agenda

Despite its high importance, mental health was not included in the development agenda until 2015. Owing to the extensive efforts by the specialists, mental health was recognized as a development priority and was included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals as part of SDG 3 (Good health and well-being). With the commitment to promote mental health and well-being (Target 3.4.), the goal will monitor the improvement of mental health with respect to suicide mortality rate (Indicator 3.4.2.)

Sustainable Development Goals – WHO

Mental health is rightfully called “fundaMental” and “crosscutting”, as it is highly interlinked with many other, if not all, SDGs, given its interrelations with poverty, education, equality, peace, justice, economy, sustainable communities, jobs, and more.


Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

As the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on all 17 SDGs and threatening their achievement, it is hitting the health goal the hardest: any progress whatsoever in health was halted or reversed and life expectancy was sharply shortened across the globe.

Department of Economic and Social Affairs – UN

The mental health field was most extensively impacted, and is believed will continue to be impacted long beyond the end of the pandemic itself. Any progress on the decline of global suicide death rates was reversed. Ongoing lockdowns, fear and grief cause spikes in mental health issues. Depressive and anxiety disorders show increasing prevalence, with tens of millions of cases adding globally. In the US, these disorders have increased four times during the pandemic. 

Diverse factors related to the virus itself, as well as factors related to the lockdowns and restrictions, topped with the general atmosphere of fear, grief and uncertainty, have already adversely affected different groups in society. By influencing key determinants of mental health, the pandemic particularly affected already vulnerable groups, such as refugees and displaced populations, people with disabilities and mental health issues. The mental health of women, youth, children and the elderly are among the ones most affected by the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a large and uneven impact on global mental health – Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation


Unique challenges faced by vulnerable groups

Owing to their experiences, refugees face heightened risk for developing certain mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and psychosis. By worsening the socio-economic and health conditions in the refugee communities, as well as disrupting social support and future prospects, the pandemic added hopelessness and despair among refugees

Sahrawi refugees in one of the camps inTindouf, Algeria. Credit: UN

As social support and connections were the strongest factor for recovering from trauma, COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected the special needs of this group. Additional aspects which are challenging for refugee communities during the pandemic include social distancing norms in overcrowded places, poor access to information, shutdown of responsible bodies, as well as decrease of humanitarian help and number of organizations working in the field for those in refugee camps.

Even before the pandemic, alarming statistics were reported in terms of the mental health situation of young people, and resulting negative coping behavior. Suicide constitutes around 8 percent of all deaths in 15-29 age group. It is the fourth common cause of death among adolescents aged 15-19 (third for girls). Since the pandemic, the situation has become worse mostly due to disruption of education, social restrictions, closure of gathering places, unemployment, as well as family stress.

The State of the World’s Children 2021: On My Mind – UNICEF

Faced with their unique challenges in terms of job stress and job loss, low income and low savings, women were additionally overburdened with household tasks,  care for children who stayed at home due to the lockdown, as well as for sick family members. Increased rates of domestic violence are also reported across the globe.

Impact of COVID-19 on SDG progress: a statistical perspective – United Nations

As studies show, this has inevitably led to a sharp increase of mental health issues in women, making them a particularly vulnerable group at the moment.

In addition to family stressors, children also have unmet needs of learning and well being because of the pandemic. Studies show that symptoms of psychological distress in children have doubled. Research studies explored the tight connection between women’s and their children’s mental health, identifying the strong impact of mother’s mental health on the self-esteem and resilience of the child. It is reported that up to 50% of mental disorders in adults begin before the age of 14 years. Given the challenges of the pandemic, this can possibly bring even worse long-term outcomes in terms of mental health.

The elderly population is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic in terms of physical and mental health. They comprise more than 75 percent of all COVID-19 deaths which leads to many fears, including the fear of contracting the virus, the fear of dying, separation from family and more. Restriction of socialization makes older people particularly lonely and puts them at higher risk of mental health issues. 

Other groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic include rural communities, persons with disabilities, people living in poverty, indigenous peoples. 

Regarding the rural communities, according to the American Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, suicide is higher in rural areas and the gap between rural and urban suicides has increased over time. A 2017 report discusses possible causes for the geographic disparity, such as, limited access to mental healthcare, social isolation and the economic recession. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected mental health in rural communities. Approximately 30% of rural adults suffered from anxiety or depression and approximately 10% seriously considered suicide. In some remote areas lacking broadband internet access, video-based mental health services were not feasible. 


Urgency to act

Mental health is increasingly recognized as a global priority. However, large treatment gaps remain in meeting the needs of people with mental health issues. The UN Secretary General has highlighted that the world is faced with urgency to develop new guidelines and new tools to improve mental health.

The World Health Organization’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan calls for partners to unite efforts in promoting mental health and preventing mental disorders, which includes, among other things, mental health awareness raising, psycho-social development programs, social support, as well as use of evidence-based traditional and cultural practices. 

The increasing shift from over-pathologizing mental health issues to more focus on building resilience and strengths (i.e. widespread employee wellness programs, mindfulness practices, skills programs in schools) show that mental health is increasingly becoming a society-wide issue and everyone’s participation is critical (from educators and employers to humanitarian and development actors, organizations and individuals). 

Sustainable development is based on the principle of “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Considering the strong link between the mental health of mothers and children, in particular its importance for a child’s resilience and self-esteem, as well as the prevalence of high suicide rates among young people, current mental health issues, if not addressed, can negatively affect the future of humanity. There is a need to make sure that we leave future generations with the necessary resilience and a healthy mind to lead lives with value and dignity.


The potential of astronomy for mental well-being

Astronomy is a unique science in many aspects. Aside from the advancement in scientific knowledge and technological applications that it fosters, it is deeply rooted in our history and culture as human beings. Therefore it can be an excellent tool to promote change and address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development has been, for more than 10 years, working toward creating a better world through Astronomy

Astronomy’s visual and staggering nature has inspired generations of poets, musicians, scientists and people who have searched in the stars for the purpose for their own existence. The contemplation of a starry sky, the Moon or the planets from a dark, natural place elicits a feeling of awe strongly connected with positive emotions and attitudes, which in turn, are essential for mental well-being.  

The starry sky produces a feeling of awe and inspiration which can play an important role on people’s mental health. Credit: Daniel López.

Awe is defined as an emotional response to grand stimuli that transcend one’s accustomed frame of reference. It involves positively balanced feelings of wonder and amazement when perceiving a part of reality greater than oneself. People experiencing awe tend to associate themselves with bigger entities and universal categories such as community, culture, human species, cosmos. Moreover, this sense of being part of something larger than the self causes a shift in attention from personal concerns and daily worries towards a more collective thought.

Indeed, studies in the area of psychology show that diminishment of the individual self produced by awe, promotes prosocial and higher moral values. These comprise the enhancement of generosity, compassion, ethical decision-making or helping responses. Seeing oneself in the grand scheme of the Universe can also lead to higher degrees of selfless, other-oriented behavior, collaboration and cooperation. These findings are independent of demographic diversity, ethnicity and age.

Awe seems to cause people to notice they have more time for themselves, which can improve their well-being and strengthen their self-esteem. Those elements are directly associated with mental health as well. Likewise, people who acknowledge feeling part of a greater entity (humanity, nature, spiritual force…) report increased gratitude and empathy

Experiences of awe can happen through narrative recall, watching compelling videos or participating in cultural activities. But the strongest trigger of awe comes from perceptions of grandeur and overpowering phenomena that are vast in size and complexity, usually found in Nature. This includes, of course, the immensity of the dark sky and the wonders of the Universe. 


Restorative effects of Astronomy

Research in the area of behavioural sciences also shows correlations between being exposed to a natural setting and recovery from physiological stress and mental fatigue, related to cognitive overload and usually manifesting as irritability, impulsiveness, impatience, frustration, etc. The effect of soft fascination caused by Nature regulates the body’ system controlling direct attention so it relaxes, promoting tranquility. Pessimistic thoughts are blocked and negative emotions, like sadness, are replaced with positive emotions, such as friendliness. 

It has been found that exposure to nature can reduce anxiety and improve pain control (in patients in hospitals, for example). The restorative influence also associates with less anger and fear, again central to mental welfare. Some authors argue that participating in Dark Nature activities enriches the interaction with natural environments since it appeals to other senses besides sight (such as smell, hearing, touch…) and sharpens our focus, allowing for higher attention levels.  

Astronomy, and in particular stargazing, perfectly combines the feeling of awe produced by looking at the vast, starry sky with being located in a (nocturnal) natural environment

Astronomy combined perfectly the feeling of fascination with being in a natural environment. Credit: Daniel López/IAC

A pilot study shows how stargazers felt increasingly emotionally connected to the natural world when participating in night-sky observations and reported an enhancement in quality of life, a rise of positive and transcendent emotions (associated with awe), relaxation and personal growth. Studies also find that people participating in stargazing and astronomy workshops experience a sense of loss of time and temporary escape, which are associated with intense happiness.

Based on all this evidence, as well as numerous anecdotal accounts from around the world of the positive effects of astronomy, we believe that Astronomy is an excellent resource to contribute to people’s mental well-being, especially for social groups that are under extremely stressful or traumatic situations, such as refugees and migrants, elderly people during the Covid-19 pandemic, young women in underserved communities and inhabitants of isolated rural areas.

A girl looks through a telescope for the first time. Credit: Sandra Benítez

Enjoying inspirational and memorable moments looking at the sky from a natural environment or participating in activities and workshops about Planets, Stars, Galaxies, etc; sharing the excitement of being connected and part of the grand Cosmos with others; understanding that we are all under the same sky together… all have positive benefits on mental health and could empower individuals afflicted by deep trauma or struggling with psychological symptoms. At the same time it changes our perspective from self-interest in favor of other’s well-being. That is what a dark sky adorned with shining stars can gift us. 

As R. W. Emerson wrote:

“The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are always inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence”.


Target groups and specific solutions 

Previously, we have discussed the unique challenges faced by several vulnerable groups regarding Mental Health. Over the past years, the OAD has been supporting many different initiatives proposing concrete actions that can be carried out in order to contribute to the mental well-being of those groups. 

  • Refugee communities: 

Amanar (Western Sahara/Algeria)

The Sahrawi refugee situation is one of the most protracted in the world, dating back to the invasion of the Western Sahara by Morocco in 1975, a subsequent 16-year long war and a stagnated Peace Process established by the UN in 1991. At present, there are still about 200.000 refugees living in the camps around Tindouf, Algeria, unable to come back to their land in a situation that is both temporary and permanent. 

Access to basic resources is very limited in the camps, which are located in one of the driest areas of the Sahara Desert called the Hamada (the desert of the desert). The UN agencies present on the field have identified several urgent humanitarian needs.

The UNHCR stresses the importance of motivating the youth, which represents 60% of the Sahrawi refugee population. The rate of absenteeism in classes and unemployment for this group is very high within the camps. They are affected by high levels of frustration and depression due to the limited prospects for their future. They also have a deep feeling of abandonment, since they believe the international community, the whole world, has forgotten about them. This has direct consequences for their self-esteem and resilience. 

Indeed, when the Amanar team was at the camps, the Sahrawi political leaders expressed concerns about the youth wanting to go back to war, being this extreme solution the only way they envisioned to resolve the long-standing conflict. 

Also, the children at the visited schools were dealing with psychological trauma and hopelessness as a result of the conflict. They conveyed their despair and anxiety of finding themselves and their loved ones in such a situation.

Amanar: under the same sky” was designed to inspire and support the Sahrawi community that has been living in the refugee camps for more than 40 years. It also aimed at promoting peace and mutual understanding through the wonders of the Cosmos, in a Pale Blue Dot spirit. 

Some of the activities organized within the Amanar initiative constitute good examples on how Astronomy may help to strengthen self-esteem, resilience and engagement in the community. These three aspects are all essential for mental welfare. 

Sahrawi students looking through a solar eclipse glasses. Credit: GalileoMobile

Within the context of the project, the sky became a free land that the Sahrawi could explore without limitations or borders. There were no curfews, no walls, no forbidden places. The sky was open to them completely, to wander around, to seize, to play, to dream. The project offered a view of the Cosmos that was a value in itself beyond the material needs of daily life, something they could comprehend with their minds and that impacted their mental needs in a positive way. 

Concretely, inspirational astronomy-related workshops were organized for children and youth in a playful and dynamic approach that gave the students the chance to participate and experiment for themselves, temporarily escaping their struggles. Also stargazing activities were carried out and telescopes were donated to the visited schools in the camps, to encourage them to create their own Astronomy clubs.  

Sahrawi teacher looking through a telescope. Credit: GalileoMobile

The team noticed that all activities helped increase motivation and positive thoughts of the youth, the most successful being the “Golden Record activity”. This is a very simple activity but full of potential. Dividing the students in several groups, each of them constitutes a Committee whose mission is to select the items that will go in a Golden Record that is to be attached to an hypothetical spaceship, soon to be launched into space. The Committees need to discuss and carefully pick which aspects of their culture, way of living, traditional music, food…will be included in the disc. Alternatively, each group can design their own Golden Record. In any case, the groups would have to explain their choices to their classmates.

Students showing the Golden Record after the activity was completed. Credit: GalileoMobile.

The children immediately catched the spirit of the activity and were excited to fill their discs with traditional songs, their favorite typical dishes, drawings of their homes, their animals, their families… For a moment, they imagined they were traveling far away to meet another civilization and they wanted this cosmic audience to know about them. This type of activity can help the youth to cope with negative feelings due to extreme situations, such as being “trapped” in a place without opportunities.

The Golden Record activity also helped them to realize their own culture is relevant and worthy of recognition and how much knowledge they have of the sky themselves. The firmament is a place where they can find a strong connection to their own cultural heritage. 

Indeed, the Sahrawi have a rich astronomical tradition (such as a calendar based on the rising of certain stars, tales about the origin of Earth or the Milky Way, guiding knowledge in the desert through their main constellations…) that has passed orally from one generation to another. However, it is nowadays in danger of being lost due to the more modern ways of living (sedentary instead of nomadic, due to the restriction of movement within the camps).

The potential of relating the sky to the culture was immediately grasped by some Sahrawi authorities, who saw the crucial need to preserve this valuable knowledge. The Oral History Department belonging to the Culture Ministry was very eager to start gathering and registering the astronomical expertise and thanks to them the Amanar filming crew had access to elders and drivers, who were erudites on the subject. In 2021, five Sahrawi researchers                 received fellowships to conduct more interviews and analyze the ethnographic data collected. This means that the Sahrawi are the leaders of this process of preserving their identity through the stars, making them feel empowered. 

Learning about the Sky from to a Sahrawi Sage under the stars. Credit: GalileoMobile.

This project has become a case study for the Mental Health Flagship, because of the target group it reaches, the approach taken and its connection with traditional views of the Sky. However it is not the only initiative to tackle Mental Issues directly or indirectly, as we show in the following.

IDP children in Nigeria

Nigeria has experienced a dramatic increase of internally displaced people (IDP) due to ethno-religious conflicts in the last 3 years, reaching about 2 million people, most of whom are women and children according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  42% of the IDP people live in camps and camp-like settings while 58% live in host communities. 

IDP children are highly exposed to inequality, illiteracy, peace & security problems and other developmental challenges, mainly the lack of continuous education and the rise of mental health issues. 

This project uses Astronomy as a tool to heal and inspire the traumatized children displaced due to conflicts in Nigeria while empowering them. It also promotes peace and togetherness. The plan is to reach 500 IDP children and organize educational activities for them, including stargazing and sky observation with telescopes. The IDP camps are located in remote locations mostly without electricity, therefore, a team of engineers’ set-up a solar-powered learning hub to serve as one of the deliverables of the project.

The team includes counselors and mental health professionals who led Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) assessments to determine the state of the IDP children’s mental health. Data retrieved from these assessments for 250 boys and 250 girls, at the Durunmi camp in North-Central Nigeria, shows that 67% of the children had mild to severe depression; 55% had mild to severe anxiety disorders; 51% had mild to severe stress conditions. 27 girls reported cases of sexual abuse confidentially to the counsellors. These results are naturally helping the team to refer the children for the required mental health care. 

From the last organized session in February 2020, just before the general lockdown of the country, the counselors recorded a 12% reduction in cases of anxiety, stress and depression from a sample size of 45 children.

  • Young Women: 

Astro Molo Mhlaba (South Africa)

Astro Molo Mhlaba targets the issues of inclusivity in SA science by engaging its most underrepresented group – black girls from underserved communities – in astronomy programmes at various stages of education. These are used as a tool to inspire girls to be passionate about science, motivate them to pursue a career in STEM, and provide them with the tools required to turn their ambitions into reality. Through its regular, long-term structure, AMM provides girls with the continuous support required to achieve their potential, which schools in their communities seldom have the resources to provide. The project offers:

  1. Astro Club: weekly, after-school programme providing astronomy-based activities to local primary school girls
  2. Astro Academy: weekly, after-school lessons aimed at both grade 11/12 (G11/12) female students from local high schools and four recently-matriculated young women. The latter are trained to run the Astro Club as Facilitators (ACFs). All participants are taught and mentored by female astronomers, and provided with STEM-career advice and support.

G11/12 and ACFs are provided with math & science tutoring by a professional tutor, to ensure they meet the grades needed to apply to university and financial aid schemes. ACFs receive a bursary for their work, to ensure they have a source of income while learning about astronomy and considering the pursuit of a STEM degree.

The project has a 100% retention rate, and has expanded to include new schools following large requests from students in other areas. Moreover, it was shortlisted for the Nature Research Awards for Inspiring Women in Science in the Science Outreach Category.

As one of the teachers from one Molo Mhlaba school in South Africa said: “The astronomy classes have helped develop the learners’ interest in science. The classes have also improved the children’s emotional development in terms of independence and self esteem.” 

Astro-STEM Workshops Show Promise of Improvement in Girls’ Enrolment (Kenya)

In Kenya, although 70.4% of girls (15-19 years) achieve some sort of primary education, only 4.5% complete secondary education and no more than 3.5% has completed tertiary education. This is due to various socio-economic challenges such as teenage pregnancies, early marriages, poverty and lack of mentorship. Rural areas lack outreach, leadership & mentorship programmes at the key primary-to-secondary transition where dropout rates are extremely high. 

The Elimisha Msichana Elimisha Jamii na Astronomia (EMEJA) project, Swahili for ‘educate a girl child, educate the entire community with Astronomy’ or rather, society benefits when a girl is educated, is addressing these issues in rural Kenya via outreach programmes, mentorship, and targeted Astro-STEM workshops and scholarships opportunities, guided and supported by long-term student tracking and monitoring.

So far, the project has engaged 1074 schoolgirls in both primary and secondary schools; 16 secondary school teachers; numerous primary school teachers; and 10 EMEJA Astro-STEM tutors. Questionnaires completed before and after the Astro-STEM workshops reveal that 90% of the students had a concise plan for their career choices as compared to only 20% before the program. 

  • Young people and children: 

Astronomy for the extremely ill or traumatically injured children and their families, USA

The Ronald McDonald Houses are a “home away from home” for families of critically ill or traumatically injured children undergoing medical treatment in nearby hospitals. They provide a comfortable, supportive alternative atmosphere to expensive hotels where family members can sleep, eat, relax and find support from other families in similar situations. Families are kept united at a time when mutual support is often as critical as the medical treatment itself. The ill children and their families may stay for a few days but some will stay for months because of chemotherapy, dialysis, or rehabilitative therapy. There are now 250 RMHs in the US and 60 in other countries.

The purpose of this project is to provide telescope observations and astronomy demonstrations for children, their siblings and adult family members staying at the RMH of Chicagoland (RMH-Chicago) in conjunction with the children’s surgery and medical treatments at nearby hospitals. 

The project provided an educational out-of-this world diversion from the stress of being sick or of having a sick family member hospitalized. The telescope observations and hands-on astronomy demonstrations provided a unique family learning experience. Astronomical demonstrations were conducted using telescope observations of the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, and nebulae.

Because the families come from across the US, they were given information about local science museums, and local astronomy clubs (with free or low-cost memberships).

The RMH-Chicago education staff was trained to use: easy to operate go-to telescopes to take advantage of clear weather and interesting celestial events; Stellarium to show the sky; Astronomy or Sky and Telescopes Magazine sites to find out about astronomical events; and demonstration materials.

Astronomy For Earthquake Affected Students

The massive earthquake that happened in Nepal in 2015 destroyed homes, schools, universities and other buildings. Investment was required not only to rebuild infrastructure but also for psychosocial counseling to ensure that children are able to cope with the trauma and resume with their lives.

Astronomy helped them forget the fear of the earthquake because it is unique and inspirational. The activities were focused on the schools of Gorkha, Nuwakot and Kathmandu, the most affected districts in Nepal.

Workshops for students and teachers were organized as well as sun observations with eclipse glasses.

The project reached 350 students, 100 family members and 50 teachers of the selected schools.

  • Elderly population: 

Astronomy for all

The “Guillermo and Alicia” Foundation is a Spanish non-profit organization for the care of elderly people, in their physical, mental and social dimensions. 

The foundation helps them to adapt their physical and cognitive capacities to the new circumstances that age brings to them, seeking a dignified aging. Another goal is to make society aware that today’s elders were yesterday’s young people, who with their effort and work have contributed to the social achievements that the new generations now enjoy.

In collaboration with the Spanish Astronomical Society a series of talks about Astronomy are being organized with the goal of inspiring and motivating the elders to get interested in the new scientific advances. Also, a secondary aim is to alleviate their stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic, taking their minds off the fear of getting infected and other worries for a few hours.

Questionnaires will be applied to assess qualitatively the benefit of Astronomy for their mental health. 

  • General Public: 

Astronomers Without Borders Media Campaign

“Under the Same Stars” by Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) developed and launched a social media campaign to bring awareness that stargazing can uniquely aid in relieving some mental stress during a time of crisis. Their campaign effectively spread the specific messaging that we can all come together virtually and feel like a cohesive community regardless of any border. It received an overall positive response from around the world.

By leveraging all communication networks, including their newsletter (10,000 + members) and social media channels (total 110,000 followers), AWB brought awareness to the night sky and its impacts on the human psyche, and its inspirational power to build community. The messaging reach was amplified thanks to support from organizational partners like the International Dark Skies Association and Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

  • Empowerment of Rural Areas: 


In contrast to many Astrotourism programs, the main objective of Astrostays is to utilize astronomy as a tool for development, creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for these remote communities. Community members are equal stakeholders in the development of AstroStays. The inflow of money into the village economy helps everyone equally, and many women, in particular, are now more confident and empowered to handle family finances.

Since starting in June 2019, 30 women from 15 different villages have been trained on the basics of astronomy and how to operate a telescope by scientists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).

Visitors can expect a holistic program involving cultural heritage and exchange, local art & craft, indigenous folklore, sustainable living, eco-tourism and more. 

The Astrostays offer an opportunity to reconnect with nature and experience sustainable modes of living that could contribute to the improvement of mental well being, especially for those living in crowded cities. In fact, the program helps to bridge the rural-urban divide by providing a stimulating setting to learn and grow. Finally, gazing at the night sky is sure to change the perspective of visitors who will realize that we are all living under the same sky.



[1] Article 12, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

[2] WHO, Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, page 2

[3] WHO, Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, page 2

[4] ibid, page 3