Dr. Nivedita Das, Ph.D. is a practising psychologist, professional life skills trainer, corporate trainer and faculty in the department of psychology at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar with extensive training experience including behavioural training for Police personnel, training for teachers at various schools, and capacity building for different organizations.

The person behind the personality

I was born in a small city in Odisha. I was raised by my mother as our biological father left us when I was just 1 year old. It was a blessing in disguise I guess as I got to stay with my maternal grandparents and the value system that I carry as a professional and in my personal life is an extension of them and their teachings. I was academically good and was the topper of my University in Graduation with Psychology honours. After my graduation, I did my Post graduation and M.Phil from Delhi University.

After 4 years of study in Delhi, I was back in Odisha after I got married in Odisha. Then I tried my hands in business a little, got involved with a few NGOs while doing a three-year law degree course and enjoying motherhood. I completed my Ph.D. and got into research and teaching. But all these years I have never taken a break from the role of a psychologist and the social sector. 

Her work

Since 2005, I am involved as a director and consultant psychologist with an organization called Grassrootsindia, (www.grassrootsindia.org) which works for women empowerment. I am also involved with an organisation which runs a Family Counselling Centre. In 2005 I met Ms Debbie Pennington, a social worker from the US, who also had been working for women empowerment in South Asian countries.

We started our organization with the belief that if women are given the power to chose and design their life the way they want, they can be successful. We started our residential program for women from underprivileged background and who were victims of violence and help them to rebuild their lives by providing them with an atmosphere for their overall well-being.

There has been no looking back and since then this organization has been a stepping stone for many women who have gotten empowered and also have become the true change agents of the society in their own small ways by bringing about positive changes in the lives of other women. 

The writer in her

I have authored two books, 7 book chapters and have published more than 60 articles including journal articles in international and national journals and articles in popular magazines. I have presented my research papers in many international and national seminars and have been a resource person for many workshops related to psychosocial issues.  

Passion for mental health

Being raised by a single working mother and seeing her struggles while growing up was something that has shaped the warrior in me. I took up psychology as a subject in my college as I always wanted to find answers to many questions that bothered me since my childhood starting from my biological father leaving us, my mother going through a divorce, the attitude of society towards women and I was amazed by my mother’s optimistic outlook towards life and her resilience.

The psychosocial issues and mental health of women in Odisha caught my attention more realistically when I got married and became a part of this unequal distribution of status among men and women irrespective of their value system and education. How unjustly men enjoy supremacy over women in our society was really unknown to me. Soon after taking charge of my emotions and issues, I started doing awareness programs by associating myself with few organizations. I wanted to help women who were victims of violence and didn’t know how to help themselves.

I think it’s the ability to tell your own story without masking it gives you the strength to overcome the hurdles in life. My work got appreciated and I was nominated to become the district member of the Odisha State Social Welfare Board (Advisory committee) which comes under the Women and Child Development Department. 

The challenges she wants to be addressed

The biggest challenge we face is actually to reconstruct their identity which is shattered by the injustice done to them. Initially, we used to expect the family to take charge and get involved in the

 woman/girl’s life. Then we realised it’s the women that the power lies within and no outside source can help them unless they are psychologically and emotionally strong and feel empowered. 

Putting in her efforts

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Since I am into research and teaching at the university also, through my research articles and teaching I emphasize the importance of psychosocial interventions and the role of mental health professionals in our society.

It is very important to make the youngsters and budding psychologists understand the issues and challenges of this field and how they can contribute towards ensuring a healthy society. I have been writing about mental health issues and how to tackle different issues that emerge at different stages of life in a popular English magazine intending to sensitise people to these issues and to remove the stigma attached to mental health/illness. 

Plans for the future…

In future, I would like to see more openness towards issues relating to mental health and more mental health professionals working towards this goal. I am doing my bit. In future, we are planning to work more consciously and consistently with other professionals on social issues which result in mental health issues when left unaddressed.

Message to those dealing with mental health issues

Those who are dealing with mental health issues should know that they are not alone in this fight with mental health issues and there is nothing shameful about being mentally ill. There is help/treatment available for mental health issues as there are treatments for physical illnesses. We all have the right to be happy and live life with dignity. Let us not be deterred by others’ ignorance and help in building a more empathetic world that can ensure a healthy society with better mental health. 

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