Mental Health in India - The Current Scenario
By: Sheenu Jhawar, Director, Apex Hospitals
An IIM Ahmadabad alumnus, Sheenu is a highly qualified healthcare professional with a Ph.D in Mental Health from IHMR University, PG Diploma in Healthcare Management from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and an Executive Management Program for Healthcare Professionals from University of Virginia Darsden School of Business.
Women Entrepreneur recently had a chance to interact with Sheenu about the current mental health landscape in our country and various other related aspects. Below are the excerpts of the exclusive interview –
Tell us about the various challenges that you faced as a woman leader along your journey so far.
It is not about being a male or female leader, but about the kind of leadership skills that you possess. Challenges must never be seen from a gender standpoint; instead, they must be viewed in terms of a person’s capabilities, skill sets, and behavior. To me personally, it was a complete shift from being a research-based professional to a hospital manager. Thus, there has been a lot of unlearning and relearning that I have undergone during my career. From being a clinical auditor at the NHS to setting up a pan-India consulting unit and travelling to several states and organizations across the country, it was a major challenge as well as a learning opportunity for me.
As the founder of ACE Vision, what business strategies have you adopted to maintain concentration and productivity in your organization?
Usually, most business strategies are focused on the revenue aspect. I am of the opinion that any revenue in the consulting space that does not make you step out of your comfort zone and cater to diverse, challenging client requirements is dead revenue. To me, it has never been about the highest revenue-yielding verticals, but about growth, which will automatically follow once there is a growth in learning. It is also a strategic move because what was prevalent and high gross margin yesterday will not be there tomorrow. Thus, we always look forward to working on projects, geographies, or types of organizations that present a challenging use case and an opportunity for us to disrupt the status quo. We never reject any project, irrespective of whether it is big or small, and thus aspire to grow along with our clients.
How are you creating awareness about mental health in various local regions across India?
When I was working in the UK with the NHS, I came across the concept of maternal depression, which was still a new concept, and not much was being talked about or studied about it back then. When I came back to India, I was shocked to see that a lot of people, including healthcare professionals, lacked proper awareness about this. I also realized that the risk of depression is genetically higher among women than in men, and this risk rate was even higher among pregnant women. This inspired me to take up my PhD in maternal depression in pregnant women.
During this, I became a member of an international society that is actively engaged in this field with a vision to contribute and assist. Since there were separate chapters in different countries but not for India, I wrote to them with an interest in starting an India-wide chapter so that we can create more awareness in the country and play an organization-based advisory role to the government in terms of the necessary policy changes to be made in order to improve the mental health of our population, especially pregnant women.
How are latest technologies currently disrupting the healthcare space?
Healthcare delivery is predominantly focused around tier-I cities across the world, and finding access to quality healthcare in rural areas is an uphill task. Technology has been a true game changer in this regard, wherein patients from anywhere can access doctors via online consultations, get treated in ICUs from wherever they are via tier 1 command centres, or even benefit from complex surgeries in real time via robotics with the guidance of an expert surgeon from any part of the world. Medical oncology, for example, can be given within the comfort of people’s homes, and care within the home environment is known to create better clinical outcomes. This way, technology is making the world smaller and thus making quality healthcare more accessible and affordable.
What modifications do you recommend for policymakers to better understand depression and improve public health?
Maternal depression is one of the most critical issues today that needs to be addressed in the best possible way because if a mother is suffering from depression, there are high chances of it being passed on to the child as well. Depression as a whole is rising as one of the largest disease burdens across the world. The first step towards solving this is to mainstream it, wherein people can openly talk about it, access treatment, and accept suffering from mental health as a disease and not a social stigma. Screening for mental wellbeing should be part and parcel of the health agenda. Mandates around ensuring the mental wellbeing of employees must be taken up at a large level, since this not only impacts the business output but is also the responsibility of an organization to take care of their teams.
We plan to incorporate this pan-organization and are working on developing practical policies that can be adapted by other organizations too.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs aspiring to be future industry leaders?
Times are changing at a much faster rate today than before, and this in itself will change too. Reliance on how things have worked in the past will not be the right vehicle for the future. While experiences are a great teacher and help gain a solid foothold, imagination, creativity, and the intent to help the customer are the right mix for becoming an industry leader. I would advise that before looking at a "problem" that you see, evaluate if others are seeing it that way too. Business cannot be about a personal theory or belief; for an idea to sell, it needs endorsement by market research, a survey, and constant customer feedback.
Lastly, know unit economics well. That alone is key to the financial success and growth of your industry.