Mahad Shahzad combats senior isolation with "Chatting to Wellness"
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Chatting to Wellness
By Dhanashree Palav and Abhishek Kumar
BRAMPTON, ONTARIO, CANADA, JUNE 20, 2020. Remember that time, when you craved for that favorite snack made by your grandma and the stories grandpa used to tell you. The unconditional love of Grandparents is something we all crave for when we are away from them. Visiting them during vacations are some of the most loving memories for everyone. But for Mahad Shahzad, it turned out to be something much more than just a memory. It was a building block for what today is a successful startup, called "Chatting to Wellness"
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The idea of Chatting to Wellness came from Mahad's visit to his grandparents in Pakistan. Who despite living in a joint family they seemed to be lonely. They ate all alone by themselves, watched TV by themselves, and generally did everything alone by themselves. They were isolated while being surrounded by their family. He realized how common it is and how a lot of people must be going through this lonesome phase in this fast world. It made him wonder how things were in Canada. On further research, he learned about senior abandonment in retirement homes and the lack of social engagement in these shelter houses which lead them to feel lonely and unwanted.
Despite mental health being largely discussed today and taken care of, the main focus is on the youth. Rarely someone talks about the mental health of the senior age-group. Learning about the over double suicide rate amongst the elderly and little to no mental health support systems designed specifically for seniors inspired him to start a program that serves them.
In the summers of 2017, Mahad started 'Chatting to Wellness’ with his friends being the first volunteers. Chatting to Wellness is a non-profit organization that serves to combat senior isolation and loneliness; particularly seniors living in retirement homes, long term care homes, and living independently in remote areas by providing them company, hearing their stories, and allowing them an outlet to express themselves.
Mahad kick-started the initiative by investing $1000 in it. In the start, going to health care centers and getting there approval was the biggest challenge as an 18-year-old business student. A lot of barriers, questions, and procedures were involved in the initial stage. He even faced rejection from the customers. But instead of giving up, Mahad pushed forward and tried understanding why the customers were saying no. It helped him convert negative responses into affirmatives. He surely teaches how one should analyze criticism and failure rather than depressing over it.
Chatting to Wellness is one of a kind and is focused on unscripted conversation and genuine connection. It provides 1on1 chatting sessions to residents of retirement homes in Southern Ontario. Chatting Sessions allow seniors to speak their minds and share their stories with the chatters. Studies have found that simply talking to someone helps to reduce stress and worry, which in turn, helps to improve the mental health of the person. Feedbacks have shown that 90% of seniors who received three consecutive Chatting Sessions have shown increased engagement with their community.
'Chatting to Wellness’ works with a mission. A mission to abolish senior isolation and provide mental health services to the aging population while providing youth with learning opportunities about mental health, health care, senior care, and leadership. Also, these conversations teach youth a lot about life and the world, since experiences are a treasure of knowledge.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government issued Social Distancing rules which restricted non-essential visits and group activities. Initially, chatting sessions were held in person but to help seniors who are self-isolating and to combat loneliness which has increased a lot during the pandemic. Chatting to Wellness launched free chatting sessions via Phone calls. Chatters (local university students) are available every weekday evening to chat with seniors.
As every entrepreneur, Mahad too made a mistake in his journey. It was overthinking. Thinking too much about the idea and not just implementing it, not putting it in action. His advice to budding entrepreneurs is to take the first step. He says that from point zero to point one is the hardest part of entrepreneurship; most people never start. Once you’ve started every next step is easier and easier to take.
For Mahad his greatest achievement was hearing about the positive impact Chatting to Wellness was making on hundreds of seniors. The feeling of running an actual organization himself when they were helping over 100 seniors per month. It's not surprising that it is the same thing that keeps him going. The realization that numerous people are relying on him for his support to achieve their goals is what gets him up in the morning.
Chatting to Wellness is now active across 12 retirement homes and 7 cities. They provide over 300 Chatting Sessions to seniors each month. This is done entirely with a student team of 30+ volunteers. Chatting to Wellness has provided 3,000+ Chatting Sessions since its inception. Mahad at the age of 19 was the youngest recipient of the 2018 Bramptons 40 under 40 award for this initiative. They have been approached by Microsoft Mississauga who offered to support the initiative with supplying computers, speakers, tablets, etc. for their programs. Rapport Youth and Family Services has expressed interest in trustee-ing 'Chatting to Wellness: until they establish as an independent charity. RBC Center for Global Innovation has expressed interest in writing a case study on Chatting to Wellness due to its interesting story and mission. Recognition of the problem that seniors are facing and gaining support to help these seniors on a larger scale is the recognition that Mahad values the most.
Chatting to Wellness plans to reach more seniors with the introduction of remote Chatting Sessions, supporting those across the country who have no or reduced access to family or friends during this trying time and forward.
Also as books are the most useful resources, Mahad reads books in his free time. Mahad is currently reading the book Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari.
Dhanashree Palav is a valued member of the Media Group at Teenager Startups. She is from Mumbai and pursuing her B.A(MMC)
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