Chatting to Wellness Brightens the Lives of Seniors

We often think of at-risk youth as being a vulnerable population with respect to suicide but the disturbing truth is that seniors are 3 to 5 times more likely to commit suicide due to mental illness associated with social isolation.  Mahzad Shahzad told us all about it.
Mahad Shazad is a 3rd year business student and Nestle Marketing Intern at the Schulich School of Business, York University.  At the age of 16, Mahad and some friends organized a fundraiser for Syrian refugees that yielded over $800 in net donations for the cause.  This experience demonstrated to him that even those who are not on the front lines of a cause can contribute to its resolution in a meaningful way.
In 2017, Mahad founded Chatting to Wellness in Canada, following a trip to Pakistan in which he observed how socially isolated his grandparents were even though they lived in a multigenerational home with many of Mahad's relatives.  On his return to Canada, Mahad's investigations into social isolation for seniors here made it clear that this is a common issue for elders no matter what their living arrangements are.
Seniors who live in nursing homes and seniors' residences are especially vulnerable to social isolation.  Senior abandonment in these settings is a common issue that contributes to the development of mental deterioration and increases the risks of depression, suicide and self-harm.
Chatting to Wellness pairs youth volunteers with seniors for companionable chatting sessions which are conducted one to one and face to face.  Eligible seniors are typically identified by residence adminisrators as people experiencing social isolation.  Youth volunteers are screened and trained thoroughly.
Chatting to Wellness currently has 20 volunteers, aged 15 - 27, in their team servicing 9 locations in 7 cities.  In the past 18 months, they have provided companionship to approximately 700 seniors.  The effectiveness of their visits is assessed using mood impact surveys before and after the visits.  Residence staff note significant changes in the willingness of seniors to pariticipate in other social events following the visits.
Youth-elder companionship is proving to be a win-win.  The volunteers have opportunities to build communication and relationship skills.  The seniors feel heard, and feel like they have made a friend.