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Sushama Kirtikar

In my previous column, I alluded to the fact that the story of mental health has not been told very well. I envision ‘Our Patchwork Quilt’ telling the story repeatedly till it sounds like a steady drumbeat. Eventually, that drum beat will reverberate as the heartbeat of our community. That is my dream.

In that vein, I want to inform our readers that World Mental Health Day is observed every year on Oct. 10. It is a landmark event that was started in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health. In the mid ’90s, the first two-hour telecast from Tallahassee was broadcast globally to mark the event. Far corners of the world such as Swaziland, Peru, Nepal, Mexico, Australia, Kenya, England, Chile, France and Zambia have been spurred into action and are observing it in incredibly creative ways from distributing banners, to pay stubs with messages, to planting flower bulbs.

This year’s theme is “Mental Health in a Changing World: The Impact of Culture and Diversity.” The planning kits are available in six world languages. It involves “developing culturally inclusive public policy and services requiring commitment at all levels of government.” It further calls upon individuals, communities and non-government organizations, “to collaborate, design and deliver culturally appropriate health and mental health services.” I am energized into thinking how appropriate that is! This is straight down our alley. Let us scoop up the energy sparked by this initiative with all the courage and strength we can muster and make a big splash in the mental health of our Indian American community. Let us become involved at the local level.

On its heels comes National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) on Thursday, Oct. 11. I understand the theme for this year is “Stop a Suicide today!” Fairly eye-grabbing, isn’t it? The intent is to reach out to people who may be suffering and do not recognize it, to take that first step towards seeking help for psychological treatment. Of course, not everyone who is depressed is suicidal. But all who are suicidal are definitely depressed. Hence, that catchphrase empowering people to reach out to loved ones and save a life, perhaps.

It is reported that there are 30,000 suicides in the U.S. each year, with 70 percent having disclosed to someone or having given warning signs before acting on the plan. That is a stirring reality to grasp. To think so many meaningless deaths might have been prevented! Are we just not present any more to see, listen and reach out to one another?

We need to galvanize our pediatricians and primary care physicians, motivate our parents and teachers, embolden our clergy, teach our relatives and friends to look out for signs and tap the person in need to get help. It can be done. First, we begin with ourselves.

You can visit and follow an online screening tool. For an in-person screening, you can visit any of the local sites listed on the Web site, or better still, take a friend along. The American Psychiatric Association has put out educational tools on their Web site It is worth a browse. Huff and puff and blow away any hesitations and get yourself screened. Change begins at home. Let us get geared to begin the change within ourselves first and then reach out to the other person.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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