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NEWS of Columbia Pacific Communities

Design elements specific to senior living homes

Prima facie, the only difference between mixed family condominiums and senior citizen homes would be the average age of the residents. From a design point of view, nothing could be further from the truth.   While one may think that designing a community for a single (senior) demographic with homogeneity of needs should be a simpler task, architects will tell you otherwise.   Several reasons underline these apparent dichotomies. A few of these are:   Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: A sense of “community” is essential in order to ensure that residents have the space and the opportunity to be socially active. Senior living communities dedicate disproportionately high space for common areas, thereby allowing residents to spend more time out of their homes with friends and neighbours pursuing hobbies and activities of common interest. Good senior living communities will dedicate as much as 10 percent of the developable area to common use areas. This is between four – six times more than regular residential projects.   Where the community is as good for me at 55 as it is at 95: The design of the homes within and the community itself is such that every square inch of the facilities and services are reachable, accessible, practical and usable for all residents irrespective of their age and physical ability. Consequently, there are no height differences on the same floor, which obviates the need for steps. Corridor widths on residential floors, door widths within the home and in public spaces and paved pathways in outdoor spaces are just some design elements that keep all areas of the community accessible to all.   Where the community feels like home but works like a hotel: The “zero headache” lifestyle of residents is the consequence of their daily chores being attended to by the service providers. To this end, the “front of house” spaces are designed keeping the needs of the residents in mind even as the “heart of house” areas facilitate efficiency and ease of access for the service personnel. Hence, the route of the resident and the route of the service provider are kept distinct and separate, thereby ensuring that the residents and service providers with their very different speeds of movement do not converge in the same space.   Where access to healthcare is easy yet discrete: The wellness clinic should be easily accessible to residents but located in a manner to also provide privacy. Well-designed communities will locate the clinic such that while these are easy to access from the “front of house”, the “heart of the house” will include a route to the clinic and from the clinic to the ambulance that is simple, efficient and clutter-free to facilitate speed of movement in times of an emergency.   Where the care is real but discrete: Use of pastel colours to provide contrast, provision of shadow-free lighting, elevator doors that stay open longer, lean rails in corridors, matt finish floor tiles, chairs that have slightly higher seats and with padded arms, rounded edges on furniture and wall corners are all design features that may or may not be observed by either the resident or his / her visitors. Each, in their small way, makes life easier, simpler and safer for residents. It is no surprise that architects of senior living communities seek the advice of and take their insights from operators and service providers of senior living communities. A well designed senior living community allows residents to enjoy the facilities daily and forever while enabling the service provider to support the residents in doing so.

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Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus affects populations across developed and developing countries. It has posed a threat to the health of humans worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the global prevalence of diabetes for the year 2000 was estimated at 175 million people and the projected estimate worldwide by 2030 is 354 million. In India alone, the prevalence of diabetes is expected to increase from 31.7 million in 2000 to 79.4 million in 2030. (Global estimates for prevalence of diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance in adults: WHO Ad Hoc Diabetes Reporting Group. Diabetes Care 16:157–177, 1993)   Obesity due to lifestyle changes has increased the incidence of diabetes not only in adults but in children too. The risk factors to develop diabetes among Indians are sedentary lifestyle, lifestyle changes due to urbanisation.   Measures to prevent diabetes Type I diabetes mellitus is not preventable. But Type II diabetes is preventable. Dietary changes, adequate exercises and positive attitude towards life are important steps to pave the way for this prevention.   Dietary changes: This includes eating less carbohydrate, particularly avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white flour, polished rice and refined sugar, eating adequate proteins and fat. Eating at the right time, particularly dining closer to sunset helps the liver perform its function of regulating glucose and building up glycogen efficiently. Exercises: This includes regular walks for 30 minutes for five days a week and engaging in weekend activities with family such as gardening, cooking, cleaning up, washing, etc. Fun filled activities through games with family and friends are very good stress busters. Positive attitude: Stress is inevitable. In life things do not always happen the way we want. To accept circumstances as they are, is a better way to get clarity and reduce unwarranted stress. It is the way in which one deals with a situation that makes the difference. Stress brings about cortisol and catecholamines to increase blood sugar whereas a positive way of looking at every situation releases dopamine which brings joy. Mindful movements such as Tai chi and Yoga help to look at life in a more positive way.   In my personal experience, I have recommended having dinner closer to sunset and manage nutrition through low carbohydrates, adequate protein and fat to my friends and family who have Type II diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism. This change in lifestyle has helped them reduce drug dosage and maintain normal sugar levels by just changing their diet alone.   An informal verbal consent was sought and a few of our residents gladly agreed to give their statements on community living adding quality to their rhythm of life and thereby helping them keep diabetes under check. They have expressed their well-being in spite of being diabetic and they attribute that to diet, exercise and rhythmic routines which they could follow in the communities.   Mr Balasubramanian from Serene Adinath by Columbia Pacific has been a diabetic for 30 years and says that his blood sugar levels were high before joining the community. Because of regular exercise suggested by the physiotherapist at the community and by following elder-friendly balanced nutrition, his sugar levels are now within normal limits.   Mr TS Swaminathan from Serene Adinath by Columbia Pacific was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years back. He claims his blood sugar is being well maintained with optimum dosage of drugs, along with following a rhythm in diet and activity at the community   Mr Dwaraki from Serene Urbana by Columbia Pacific has been living with diabetes for 7 years.  He says that it can be managed well with strict diet without sugar and fried foods, an hour-long morning walks daily, 40 minutes of exercise and 30 minutes of pranayama. Keeping busy with other useful activities and avoiding stress is the mantra, he says.   Mrs Rita from Serene Urbana by Columbia Pacific is 67 and she was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years back. She consults her dietician regularly and says that one never really has to give up on anything that one likes to eat. One just has to make sure to balance the intake.   Prevention and care Health education to spread awareness about lifestyle changes must start at the school level and importance should be given to physical education as well. This will prevent the risk of someone becoming diabetic or becoming obese.   Periodic health screening can be made mandatory among young working adults for early diagnosis of diabetes which can be managed and even reversed if known at an early stage.   Conclusion Living life more consciously is the need of the hour to prevent lifestyle diseases. Eating with awareness and expending energy consciously will help lower the incidence of diabetes mellitus.

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Real estate trends that dominated 2021

In a world where the word ‘disruption’ had come to be associated with new technology-enabled businesses that upended the existing status-quo of legacy brick-and-mortar business models, 2021 disrupted life itself. Businesses, the country, the economy and, in fact, humanity itself was disrupted. Real estate was no different.   Classically, the real estate industry divides itself into three verticals – residential, commercial and industrial. These three verticals sat at very different levels of their respective evolution at the beginning of 2021.   Residential real estate in 2021 Several policy-level initiatives, such as demonetisation, the application and subsequent revision of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the introduction of a regulatory authority – RERA, in the years preceding 2021 had ensured that only large, well-structured and professionally-managed companies were now serving the needs of the customers.   With the ‘investor-buyer’ driven out of the market, all the cities had large inventories available for sale and new launches were on the decline.   The second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, 2021 saw an uptick in residential sales across the country. With some state governments offering a reduction in taxes and registration fees, developers, keen to sell existing inventory, offered value-additions. Buyers, who needed increased space to ‘work from home’, wanted the additional peace of mind that came from owned (and not rented) homes. Consequently, various factors combined to see a YoY 2x increase in residential sales across the country.   Conversely, with more and more expat and Indian white-collared workers being able to return and work from their hometowns, rental values of properties across tier-1 cities fell to unprecedented levels, not witnessed in the previous five to 10 years.   Commercial real estate in 2021 Shopping malls, retail outlets, office spaces, hotels, and several such common spaces used for business purposes were adversely affected during 2021. A drop in footfall, a forced shift to online shopping, work-from-home from home towns and video-conferencing, reducing the need for in-person meetings. All this contributed to a huge drop in demand for these spaces.   Consequently, lease/rent models between tenants and developers changed to revenue share, with the developer having to partner the lessee in the downturn, while restaurants moved to cloud kitchens and office space demand in small towns increased to match the cost of the bigger cities.   That said, the last quarter of the calendar year – since the petering of the second wave – witnessed a return to the ‘old normal’. So, while the early predictors of doom were seeming to be right, the final contours of where and how the sector will be affected, are yet to be crystalised.   Industrial real estate in 2021 Warehouses and data centres have seen a huge increase in demand. Large plots near logistical doorways – airports, stations, ports – are catering to the shift to the technology-enabled trade that has been the biggest beneficiary of a world still wanting to consume without stepping out of the safety of their homes.   Finally, a relatively low-profile sub-sector of real estate – senior living communities – has seen an enormous boost in demand. Although this is a service and healthcare solution, the demand for well-designed communities, customised to the needs of senior citizens, is such that communities with ready-to-move-in homes have a long waiting list, for both, rent and resale. Developers are seeking professional service providers to launch this solution as a part of their integrated townships.   As the world starts to return to life after COVID, one hopes that the real estate sector, battered by so much for so long, will finally be able to occupy its rightful space as a large-scale employer and contributor to the country’s growth and economy.

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Should India adopt the time bank initiative?

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

Time Bank is essentially a barter mechanism that allows individuals to “deposit” and “withdraw” personal time depending on their ability and needs.  As a philosophy, this is both simple and noble in its conception and is based on altruistic principles harking back to a simpler time.     In essence, individuals offer their time (at no charge) to others. This contribution is logged in their account and available to them as a credit to avail in their times of need.   In its purest form, Time Banking values every individual (and their time) equally, makes “giving of personal time” a tradeable commodity, increases mutual respect and thereby builds a self-sustaining community instead of selfish individuals.   One of the more successful attempts at practical implementation of this concept was seen in the Swiss city of St. Gallen (population ~75,000) where healthy and caring volunteers with good communication skills looked after elderly people and were able to “deposit” the time they spent into their personal account of the social security system.    Over time, as the volunteer himself/herself got old and was in need of assistance, he/she could withdraw the hours that they had in their account and could depend on the social service system to assign them a volunteer.   India too has had well-meaning citizens make an effort in this direction with the first Time Bank of India making its debut in 2019.   A sub-committee within the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also recommended that India test a pilot project supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.   That said, true value of any noble intentions or concept lies in its implementation and success in the real world.     What is evident from the various experiments around the world is that the truism of “time is money” cannot be ignored.  Hence, volunteers who are happy to contribute time for such an initiative need to come from a background or have a social support structure where they no longer need to use their time to generate money for themselves and their families.   In countries where people are at an age or stage of their lives where they have to strive hard to provide a better standard of living for their families and the best possible education for their children, the ability and desire to “bank” time for a return in kind at some future date while noble in its endeavour and thought, loses to the more immediate concerns of daily life.   In the more developed countries that have a well-developed and robust social security system and where elderly individuals need company and companionship, such an experiment has worked well with young pensioners banking time to help and support older pensioners.   The young pensioners in these countries can depend on the state to support their financial and medical needs and are hence able to contribute their time to the benefit of their elders, secure in the knowledge that they too will be beneficiaries of the time they accumulate in their personal accounts.    India is adding 4.5 million senior citizens to its population every year.  By 2050, 20% of the country will be above the age of 60.  The rapid nuclearization of families, improved education and job opportunities, longer life expectancy means more and more seniors are living alone as their children pursue their careers across the world.   What India needs is a solution that encourages seniors to live in a community environment where all their needs of daily living are looked after, their immediate and emergent medical needs can be addressed and where social interaction acts as a bulwark against ageing allowing them to remain healthier for longer.   Senior living communities are the best solution to this need.  Where the country and our seniors need support from the government is through policy and legislation whereby such services are available to all who seek it across all price points.   While the middle class can afford these services from their accumulated savings, many elders will depend on their children’s support to get them access to the care and support they need – especially when the children are themselves unable to be personally present to provide this.   In such a case, children must appreciate and fulfil their responsibilities to their parents.  The COVID-19 pandemic laid cruelly bare the dependency senior citizens living on their own have on external resources to assist them with activities of daily living.   The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is a step in ensuring that there is a remedy available to society and elders.  Tabled for approval in this session of Parliament, the Bill introduces several changes to the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.   The Amendment Bill widens the definition of “children” to include adoptive children and children-in-law as also the legal guardians of minor children.  Similarly, the definition for “parents” now includes parents-in-law and grandparents as well.   The earlier definition of maintenance under the Act included the provision of food, clothing, residence, medical attendance, and treatment. This has been expanded to include the provision of healthcare, safety and security for parents to lead a life of dignity.   Most importantly the amendment will remove the cap of Rs. 10,000 per month as the maintenance charge.  Tribunals will now have the liberty to fix this charge based on the standard of living of the parents and the earnings of the children to ensure that seniors are able to enjoy the dignity they deserve.   One hopes that the legislation and the initial rulings will send an unequivocal message to children that the state will stand by the seniors and ensure that children are fair and considerate in fulfilling their responsibilities.   Time banking on the other hand, has the potential to succeed in environments where individuals have fulfilled their responsibilities to their families and where the urge and urgency to translate personal time into money is no longer a factor.   Senior living communities where all residents realise the value of their time and support to friends and neighbours is an ideal place to use this tool to bind residents in ties of mutual support. 

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How homogeneity can backfire sometimes

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

The word ‘hospitality’ is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors. This essence is captured in the mantra from the Upanishad that says ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ – which asks that one consider guests as equivalent to God. The complete mantra, in fact, asks one to consider one’s parents, teacher and guests as the equivalent of Divinity.   As children, we have learnt the art and importance of treating all who visit our homes with warmth, courtesy and politeness.  We have seen our parents sacrifice their own material comfort to ensure that our visitors are well looked after.   It is no surprise then that Indian hospitality – both in homes and as an industry is recognised the world over for its sincerity, intuitive care and genuine warmth.   It is my belief that formal hospitality training in institutes and hotel training departments should be crafted in a manner that they do not ‘out train’ this innate skill that we possess as a consequence of the nurturing we receive in our formative years.   STOP THE SOP Standard Operating Procedures – a phrase loved by trainers and “branded” hospitality companies who dangle voluminous tomes to potential partners, possess within them, if taken too seriously, the ability to completely homogenise and sanitise the customer experience to a level of blandness.   Processes and procedures detailed in SOP manuals are important as training tools.  They have their value in ensuring minimum standards are met consistently and that efficiency and productivity are enhanced while eliminating errors.  In my opinion, these manuals should be created to communicate and measure the technical craft and skills of hotel keeping.   Interactions that involve guests should not be ‘standardised’.  Successful service companies lay emphasis on creating customer delight and memories that engender customer loyalty and repeat visits or usage.   Standard operating procedures that start to mandate use of standard phrases to drive conversation reduce the interaction to the lowest common denominator.  Customer interaction training should focus on softer aspects that encourage active listening, being sensitive to non-verbal cues and messaging, heightened levels of empathy which in turn results in the customised, intuitive and genuine service that touches the hearts and minds of the guests or customers.   SPEAKING FOR BESPOKE There was a time when international brands were “aspirational”.  This was until they became commoditised as a consequence of their own need to be consistent service and product providers across geographies.  That said, in an increasingly uncertain world, for travellers visiting new countries and places, these trans-national brands do provide the security and solidity that comes from being familiar and knowing what to expect.   Increasingly the luxury traveller is moving from a paradigm of large, glamorous, “big is beautiful” hotels to the bespoke, small and authentic establishments that have a sense of place and are true to the cities and countries that they are located in.   As the service and hospitality industry matures and the travellers become more discerning, authenticity of experiences is the currency of “luxury”.   Brands and branded services and facilities are becoming increasingly the norm especially if the business has service at its core.  Even companies that are primarily producers and sellers of products understand that pre and after sales services are as important to the success of their brand and organisation as the quality and desirability of the product itself.   It is no surprise that whether the product is a car, a telephone, a hand bag or a home, brands are focussing on the customer journey and experience from before the purchase to after the purchase transaction has been completed.   SERVING SENIOR CITIZENS Branded residences and brand supported senior living communities are no different. High net worth buyers of luxury condominiums seek quality service and an aspirational address.  They wish their homes to be a statement of their achievement and a place where they can enjoy the fruits of their labour, entertain friends and family.   On the other hand, middle class senior citizens buy into a senior living community to get the the peace of mind that comes with having the service provider take care of all the activities of daily living.  This enables residents to spend time on their passions and hobbies – things they want to do without having to worry about any of the things that they had to do when they were living on their own.   It is important that residents of senior living communities are able to enjoy the services that addresses their security, housekeeping, maintenance, medical and dining needs and provide them with the “zero-headache” lifestyle they desire and deserve.  However, what differentiates a good senior living community from an exceptional one is the service ethos of those who provide these services.   It is here that service providers must truly embody the true message contained in the Shikshavalli of the Taittiriyaa Upanishad that says “matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, atithidevo bhava”.   After all, residents of a senior living community, unlike hotel guests are with us forever.  They are of our parents’ age and have much to teach us with the wealth of their life experiences.  They are our parents, our teachers and our guests – it is only correct that our every interaction with them embody the principle of “unconditional love, respect and care”.   Each and every guest is unique and different.  The needs of a transient business traveller, a vacationing family, a couple on honeymoon, a group of friends on their reunion have nothing in common.  They all approach your team and your establishment with their varied expectations.   Thankfully, the skills required to meet and exceed these all are the same – the skill to listen with care and take ownership of delivery.  A passion to create memories and a burning desire to send every guest as an ambassador of the brand – all captured quite pithily as “the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors”.

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The most important aspect of retirement planning

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

Good retirement plans should fulfil the objective of providing an individual with a stress-free life and lifestyle after the cessation of a regular income and until the end of life. At the same time, effective retirement planning should facilitate transfer or disposal of assets for the next of kin in the simplest and most tax efficient manner.   It naturally follows that retirement planning, to be comprehensive, should include:   – Financial planning that allows individuals to enjoy the quality of life that they would like to even after the monthly income that comes from one’s profession has stopped. This should include not just the day to day expenses but also events and occasions like the celebration of festivals, participation in and travel for family celebrations, travel and vacations etc. – Medical planning that includes an insurance or corpus that covers for serious illness requiring hospitalisation and an amount that is available for day to day medication that is a natural part of ageing and age-related illnesses. – Estate planning that eases the transition of assets to one’s partner, children or next of kin.   One needs to factor in the fact that better lifestyle habits and improved medical care has resulted in an increase in life expectancy in India.   A Lancet study reveals that India and Indians have gained a decade of life expectancy since 1990. The study noted that life expectancy in India has risen from 59.6 years in 1990 to 70.8 years in 2019. What this implies is that a person retiring at 58 in 1990 did not have to put aside moneys for many years thereafter.   Now, on an average, a person must plan for at least a decade beyond the age of retirement. It is not a surprise that the Economic Survey finds that 7 in every 10 working individuals in the country expect financial support from their children post their retirement.   When one combines the longer life tenure with the increasing cost of medicines and hospitalisation, the amount of moneys that one must put aside for retirement has gone up exponentially.   It is hence, not a surprise that 58 or 60 is no longer the age at which one stops working. Good health and a wealth of experience is seeing many professionals working well into their seventh decade of their lives.   Given the higher life expectancy, government and private companies in India are mulling over increasing the retirement age – from the current figure of 60 years. The few exceptions to this rule include teachers, court judges, and even CEOs of private banks, who can continue serving in office until they are deemed competent to perform their duties.   It is hence clear that retirement planning must start well before one retires. In fact, retirement planning should start soon as one has clarity on two aspects. Firstly, a realistic expectation and understanding of one’s income levels until retirement and secondly, clarity on the kind of life that one envisages for oneself post retirement.   Once one is clear about these two aspects, one can calculate the amount of money one must have in various investments and financial instruments that will allow the individual to cover for the financial and medical planning for the post-retirement years. This will allow the individual to know how they should plan their spending over the balance earning years thereby allowing them to save and invest adequately.   The most important aspect of retirement planning is to be aware of its need and importance and start planning for it earlier in life.

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Pandemic has boosted the demand for senior citizen housing

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities at an event

With the pandemic, independent individuals those active beyond 55 years of age are looking for a community that provides safety and security, along with services and amenities that add meaning to their lives, whether it is entertainment, social interaction, or health and wellness.   The past ten years have been seeing a sociological phenomenon that is becoming mainstream enough to start meriting an especially developed catch-phrase to define it – the grey tsunami. An expression that refers to the disproportionate growth of senior citizens as a percentage of the population.   Much as we disagree with the visual imagery the description evokes, it is a fact that India is adding senior citizens to its population at the rate of four to five million every year. This cohort comprises eight percent of the population today – a proportion that will balloon to 20 percent by 2050.   Another quiet change that is taking place is the number of seniors staying on their own. This may be in private homes and villas or in apartments within multi-family condominiums. The phenomenon of parents and children staying separately from each other is not so much on account of a change or dilution in cultural values but a reflection of the altered circumstances emerging from the evolved aspirations of both parents and children.   Indians have always seen education as a means of enhancing their social and financial standing. Parents have endeavoured to provide their children with the best possible education, even while stinging on personal comfort. Access to quality education in India and overseas for the availability of job opportunities across the globe means that parents have taken pride in seeing their children pursue their careers away from the home city.   Moreover, COVID – 19 and the lived experience of seniors residing alone over the last 20 months have further highlighted this dependence. This has been the cause of a lot of anguish for both generations – children living away from their parents and the seniors themselves.   By contrast, residents of senior living communities have been able to depend on the service provider and the on-property medical support to ensure that their needs were met while keeping them insulated from the dangers of the external environment.   However, demand for senior living communities – both with ready to move-in homes and new projects that would be complete in the next few years has grown exponentially. Additionally, the enforced lockdowns have resulted in the pent up demand surfacing to increase the number of transactions in the period leading up to the festive season.   And the solution for seniors as represented by a community designed with their needs in mind is a unique mix of real estate, hospitality and health care that fulfils their every need. In the past, the average age of the buyer was between 65 and 75 years of age. But today, the receiving enquiries are from a demographic that is much younger and also from children who wish to ensure that their parent’s needs are fulfilled within their homes and by a professional service provider.   This demographic has fulfilled all its responsibilities – to their parents, their children, society, and the nation. Thus, they now have the desire, the means and the opportunity to follow their passions and interests. Hence, senior living communities are a solution that frees them from the worries of things they have to do, enabling them to devote themselves to the things they want to do.

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Keeping a check on Mental Health: Leaders’ side of the story

Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President - Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities

In the last 19 months, many companies in India have introduced mental health benefit schemes and working professionals feel more supported than ever before.   70 percent of professionals in India said their employer supported their mental well-being compared to 65 percent globally, as per the latest ADP report, ‘People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View’.   However, the stress caused by the pandemic has still been a significant challenge for professionals in India. Especially for leaders, as they face stress to ensure business continuity, manage their emotions as well as teams, and ensure workplace safety.   But often we have skipped talking about how and what leaders have been doing to address this. Leading by example, how are leaders taking care of their own mental health?   Leaders don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have everything figured out. They deal with different kinds of stress on a daily basis. Yet they are expected to always be calm and sorted. Let’s break this stigma.   Helping us break the glass ceiling of misconceptions around mental health, some of the business and HR leaders shared with us how they cope with stress and take care of their mental health:   Remember, you are not alone!: Balajee Sowrirajan, MD, Samsung Semiconductor India R&D Center (SSIR) “I feel looking at every challenge as an opportunity and not as a stress point, makes the difference. To stay positive in challenging situations, I look back at situations that I tided over successfully. Though our job as leaders is like a sponge, to absorb the pressure but not to pass it down to the next level. However, I have learnt that leaders should normalise leaning on their people and acknowledge the power of the team to solve problems. Remember, you are not alone! It’s also important for leaders to realise that they are vulnerable, you are not a superhuman. it’s okay to make mistakes and accepting that makes you human. Being real removes a lot of stress!”   Set healthy boundaries at work: Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities “I have lived with chronic depression and anxiety for the past 23 years. Dealing with illnesses has become a way of life. However, even after over two decades of fighting this disease, I don’t think it gets easier to live with it. What does happen is that you learn to identify trigger points at work, and at home, and try to protect yourself from these trigger points. Work stress is inevitable for any leader because with added responsibilities come added stress. That’s not something one can run away from unfortunately. But what is of utmost importance is to set healthy boundaries at work, and try to stay away from situations that can be potential triggers or stressors. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. But leaders need to look after themselves first in order to look after their businesses and verticals well.   Share your vulnerabilities with your peers & team members: Jai Balan, Head – Human Resources, Bharti AXA Life Insurance “With added responsibilities and work pressure as a leader, bottling up emotions and anxieties under the misplaced notion that a leader needs to always appear strong and resilient just multiplies stress. Therefore, for a leader, it is important to exhibit and share your vulnerabilities with your peers and team members to create a safe space for them to know that it’s okay to feel stressed or anxious about work. Further, to manage workplace stress and anxiety, it is important to compartmentalize your thinking so that work-related matters do not stress you during your time-off.”   Yoga & prioritising family time keeps mental health in check: Sarada Vempati, SVP & Head of Technology Infrastructure, Wells Fargo India & Philippines “I was in my first week on the job at Wells Fargo. My daughter was away studying in the U.S., adding to my personal anxieties. As part of the leadership team at the bank, we were pretty much on 24×7. Balancing that with personal stressors pushed all our coping resources to the limit, including mine. How did I cope? I chose something I could do together with my daughter thousands of miles away – we both joined a yoga class! It was early in the morning for me and late evening for her. We felt closer and also connected doing it together, while relaxing and also keeping our mental balance during a very stressful time.”   Breaks, binging on Netflix & gratitude keeps stress away: Anupam Trehan, Senior Director, People & Communities, Cisco India & SAARC “As a leader and a mother, I have to focus on keeping myself strong-mentally and emotionally, to be able to support the well-being of our employees and our community networks while also managing home. A few things that I try to do to help me cope is – blocking time on my calendar for breaks. I may not always be successful, but I have realized that when you can manage your calendar, you can get more done, feel less overwhelmed, and be more relaxed. Secondly, I consciously step away from work for a few hours to spend time with family. Thirdly, I keep 30 minutes to get some exercise, read a book, or to do any activity that acts as a de-stressor. Sometimes that may just be binging on Netflix. Lastly, two things that get me through when I am stressed or upset are square breathing and gratitude. Gratitude to be surrounded by amazing people at work & home who are there with me, behind me to lift me up.”   Having a mentor for guidance is enabling: Suma PN, Director HR, Otis India “Early in my career, I realized that taking care of ‘self’ is important for me, if I have to take good care of people around me, including the teams that I lead and the people I am responsible for. Staying physically active and paying attention to my dietary habits has helped me enormously over the years.  Practicing Yoga keeps me focused and improves my concentration. Having a mentor for guidance enables me to share and learn from the experiences of the person I trust in and who has confidence in my abilities as an individual and as a leader.  Looking at the bigger picture and the wonders of this beautiful life always keeps me grounded, with a positive outlook.”   Have some me-time: Mubarak Begum, HR Head of Kristal.AI “As an HR professional handling a workforce spanning multiple countries, the challenges are manifold. Add to that the pandemic, and most days I feel there aren’t enough hours in the workday. I’ve learnt that having some me-time is crucial for your mental health. I begin my day with meditation and go for a run on alternate days. On weekends, I enjoy quality time with family or just go for a drive. I also take time out to read. On weekly calls with my team, we’ve started taking some time to talk about anything but work. This helps keep things light.”   Unwind holistically for better mental health: Nimisha Das, Director – HR, Kellogg South Asia “My personal mantra is to ensure I unwind holistically, so it invariably includes activities that help me de-stress physically, mentally, and socially. I love spending quality time with my loved ones and my cat, Tango. I practice yoga as it caters to my internal as well as external well-being. Whenever I get time off from work, I travel away from the city because I truly believe travelling teaches one a lot.”   Nothing is more important than ‘you’ and ‘your mental wellness’: Rajesh Rai, VP – People Team and Head of HR, India, GlobalLogic “In every individual’s life, one would find themselves grappling with stressful times, and such experiences can be overwhelming. In the present times, stress is something we all have to manage by taking approaches that are personalized to us. In stressful situations, I manage stress by disassociating myself from the triggers and seeking  things that I love doing to bring more positivity for myself in that very moment. These could be immersing myself in meditation, listening to music, spending quality time with loved ones, going for a run, or sometimes even simply indulging myself with a sweet treat. This little time of self-care enables me to process my thoughts and realign myself to tackle the stress head-on.   Don’t stress the could haves: Ruhie Pande, CHRO, Godrej Housing Finance “I read this at the tube station during my travels and it stayed with me – ‘Don’t stress the could haves , if it should have, it would have’ ! I truly believe stress is often an outcome of trying to control things and my focus is to embrace the process and give things my 100% without trying to influence outcomes. Pursuing a hobby helps as well. I have an active interest in volunteering for animals, reading & writing and I ensure to take time out to invest in them.“   Work is not a sprint but a marathon: Ramya Sampath Sharma, Chief People Officer, GreyOrange “The fact remains that for all the excitement of the VUCA world, the relentless nature of our lives today [work and personal] has a massive impact on our mental health. As leaders, it is critical that we balance the demands of our work and organization with the need to be empathetic to employees. This requires the ability to understand that work is not a sprint but a marathon. This is my own mantra and the secret to my ability to keep going in this  fast paced work.”   Pay close attention towards your own mental well-being: Sushant Patnaik, Head-HR, Aeris Communications “Last 18 months has literally condensed decades of learning in a few months. Adapting to a new normal, shifting from brick and mortar to online grocery shopping, online education and healthcare and so on. It is normal to end up in a condition of tight strain, with life slowing to a standstill at times, stuck between the four dividers of your room and the sorry state of affairs around. As a wellness trainer myself, I am acutely aware of this stress that many of us feel. Also, as the bridge between the business and employees, I keep reminding myself continuously that I have a greater responsibility to undertake. Therefore, I pay close attention towards my own mental well-being and also encourage my colleagues and loved ones to do the same. These have been testing times, requiring each one of us to be calm and empathetic towards others. Every leader has to wear numerous hats, and in my case, I have to ensure employees’ stability and help them through grievances. That is only possible if I take good care of my personal well-being.”

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Leading conversations around mental health

Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President - Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities

A quick disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But as someone who has lived with clinical anxiety and depression for over 23 years, here are my thoughts on how brands can lead the conversation around mental health.   According to WHO (World Health Organisation), 7.5% of India’s population is mentally ill, and the number will reach 20% by the time the pandemic ends. It is being said that mental illness will be the next pandemic.   But, given its non-communicable nature and the fact that it’s an invisible disease, despite the swelling numbers, mental illness is still not perceived as a “real illness” by a vast number of people in our country. And that’s where the problem worsens.   Brands have an important role to play here and to dispel the notion that mental illness is in “someone’s head.” Many Indians have a tendency of living in denial as far as mental illness is concerned, mainly because it’s invisible and also because it’s mired in stigma.   Both healthcare brands and non- healthcare brands in the “wellness space” can drive this agenda steadfastly in order to change public perceptions on the illness.   The #HealthInsideOut campaign launched in January this year by Insurance giant Future Generali, which showcased the tell-tale signs of mental illnesses through a video series animating inanimate objects such as a vase, a pillow, depicted the various physical manifestations of this ‘invisible disease’.   Draw attention to the mental illness crisis in India It is no secret that India is in the midst of a mental illness crisis. Researchers from NIMHANS have shared that per lakh individuals, there are only 0.75 psychiatrists in India as of 2019. India needs 2700 new psychiatrists every year. In rural areas, there is virtually no mental health support, leaving lakhs of people undiagnosed.   Psychiatrists are overburdened by the number of patients they have to see every day, providing very little time and attention to each patient. The problem is looming large but we are not talking about this enough.   This is an opportunity for brands to shed light on the current situation and catalyse conversations and action by the Health Ministry to address the predicament.   Drive the narrative that overall wellbeing is unattainable without mental wellbeing The Government of India launched the Fit India initiative on August 29, 2019. And while that’s a great initiative, it lacks focus on mental health. The truth is, physical fitness is incomplete without mental wellbeing and the two are deeply connected. Unfortunately, our attention and efforts are always skewed heavily towards physical fitness, neglecting mental health almost entirely.   This is where brands and advertisers have a game-changing role to play. To establish and propel the narrative that mental wellbeing is as important as physical fitness and merits equal attention.   With cutting edge creativity and continuous, effective storytelling, this message can be driven to the furthest corners of the country by brands who would need to own this narrative.   Shatter the shame, stigma and misinformation on mental illness Advertising has often been a vehicle of change. It can play a crucial role in changing the conversation around mental health, encouraging more people to speak up about their mental health challenges, which in turn will give other “closeted mentally ill” people the courage to share their stories.   A few campaigns done on mental health in the recent years have ignited a meaningful dialogue on the same.   Ogilvy’s print ad for The Hindu, on World Mental Health Day (October 10) last year on “a smile” and what it actually means when someone with mental illness “smiles” was thought provoking.   Prega News’ 2018 campaign demonstrating the struggles of a new mother at the workplaceraised awareness on an oft-neglected kind of mental illness – post partum depression.   One can never forget the powerful “Dobara Poocho” campaign done by Deepika Padukone’s Live Love Laugh Foundation four years ago, which underlined the importance of that little extra effort that is needed to find out if someone is doing fine, mentally.   The Foundation followed it up with another compelling campaign called #NotAshamed featuring real life mental illness survivors who were bold enough to share their stories of struggle and pain.   The #NotAshamed campaign was not just digitally activated, but also taken to the masses through OOH in the form of large billboards in prominent parts of the city with faces of mental illness survivors saying they are not ashamed.   The campaign did a phenomenal job in normalising conversations around mental illness and reducing the shame and stigma that people suffering from these illnesses have to battle with every day, at home and outside it.   In May this year, Columbia Pacific Communities launched a campaign titled #ReachOut done in association with the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Hospital, which reached over 6.5 lakh people. It urged senior citizens feeling overwhelmed, distressed, worried, listless and isolated during the second wave of the pandemic, to reach out for free mental health support without any hesitation or shame.   It is time for more and more brands to do their bit to freed mentally ill people from judgement, shame, apathy and stigma that is so unique to this illness.   Crafting conscientious communication While there have been some great work on the discourse of mental health by brands in the past few years, there have been a few misses as well. The recent Netmeds ad featuring actors Karisma and Kareena Kapoor being one. The film not only trivialised a serious, life altering disease such as anxiety but also used a judgemental, condescending tonality, drawing criticism from all corners.   Mental health and mental illnesses are already hugely misunderstood and misrepresented. Incorrect, misinformed narratives don’t help matters. Using terms such as “depressed” or “anxious” loosely and interchangeably has far reaching impactand dilutes the suffering of millions of people living with one or more forms of life alternating mental diseases.   Marketers need to engage in rigorous research and seek the help of specialists when crafting communication around mental health because an incorrect narrative can do more damage to the discourse and result in more confusion and lack of clarity among the masses.

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India along with the developing world working to boost basic mental health infrastructure

India along with the low-and middle-income countries are now working to enhance the access to mental healthcare across the globe, especially in the low-and middle-income countries. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a greater degree of mental health issues in India by exacerbating economic problems and creating uncertainty.   The big issue confronting India is that for a million population, there are only 3 psychiatrists, and even fewer psychologists. Added to this is a global pandemic and the impact that it has had on the mental health of individuals across all age groups and social strata. It is not hard to understand how we are facing a storm that seems almost too difficult to navigate, said Dr Sapna Bangar, psychiatrist and head, Mpower – The Centre, Mumbai.   Experts from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences concurred that people need to accept that anxiety and depression need medical attention. It could be seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that is related to changes in seasons and begins and ends at about the same time among other phases of melancholy.   On the occasion of the World Mental Health Day observed annually on October 10, this year’s theme ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’, calls out the unavailability of basic mental health services across the globe.   From India standpoint, efforts are on to set up mental health services where patients can connect offline or even virtual. “We need to counteract this situation. The public and private sectors providing mental healthcare need to team up to provide the right care to as many people as possible. There is need to raise awareness and reduce mental health stigma which is the main reason that people needing help and support do not come forward to seek it,” Dr Bangar added.   WHO estimates, mental illness accounts for about 15% of the total disease conditions around the world and that India has one of the most sizable populations affected by mental disorders. Consequently, WHO has branded India as the world’s ‘most depressing country.’   All schools and colleges need to adopt a mental health curriculum to improve resilience. Corporates need to invest in the mental health of their employees by providing regular counselling sessions as an integral part of employee benefits, introducing mental health leave and appointing mental health advocates within the organization. We also need to impart skills to the general population as well as primary health workers to identify and sensitively care for the people suffering from mental health issues in the right direction, said Dr Bangar.   According to Niraj Singh, founder & CEO – Spinny, every organisation should place an impetus on mental well-being and rectifying mental health-related issues. The pandemic has been devastating for the world’s collective mental state of mind and it needs to be a collective responsibility for us to look out for each other.   According to Dr Karthiyayini Mahadevan, head, wellness and wellbeing at Columbia Pacific Communities, man is the architect of society and individual mental health plays a vital role in bringing about overall social well-being.   “Nutrition feeds the mind, breath anchors the mind and activities engage the mind,” he said.   Let us have a well-balanced, nutritious diet through locally grown organic produce prepared traditionally; let us breathe properly by regulating our breath through healthy breathing practices and take care of the atmosphere by being sensitive and responsible towards environmental pollution; and let us engage in creative activities to enliven the mind, stay in good mental health and contribute towards a healthier society, Dr Mahadevan further said.

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