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What is Sanctus?

James: It’s a mission to get people to work on their mental health as well as their physical health. Day to day we partner with other businesses to empower their employees in the work place to work on their mental health with someone. So we have a team of Sanctus coaches who are like personal trainers for your mental health, we place them in the workplace and make them really accessible for people to talk to someone about their mental health before things get bad, so our whole approach is work on your mental health like your physical health and go to the gym for your mental health.

Our whole approach is work on your mental health like your physical health and go to the gym for your mental health.

What was the driver behind starting Sanctus?

James: Initially my own experience with mental health and then later on our team’s…but I had quite a sharp and pointed experience with my own mental health after me and George started a business together out of University, we shut that down and in the wake of that I started to feel really anxious, have panic attacks, really lost and purposeless and didn’t really know anything about my mental health or what was going on. I started to open up, started to talk about it and then everything gravitated towards Sanctus and me and George reflected on our own experience together, on our own mental health. Our team here have all got their own experiences and stories on how mental health has impacted their life and why they want to change the way it is now.

Who is Sanctus for?

George: Sanctus is for everyone. We’re trying to re-brand mental health and make it accessible, relatable and aspirational in a way. And that’s our big vision, to have a Sanctus Gym on the high street where anybody can walk in off the street and work on their mental health and that’s what we’re working towards.

We’re trying to re-brand mental health and make it accessible, relatable and aspirational.

James: We obviously work with businesses now and the main reason for that is that’s where a lot of people spend their time and it’s a great way of reaching people, while they’re at work. The business subsidises the cost so it’s free for people and you literally have someone in the workplace you can speak to so it makes working on your mental health really easy and right now it’s not. If you want to find yourself a coach or therapist its really difficult, the market is really fragmented, you don’t know where to go, it’s scary, its expensive so we’re just making it really easy for people through work.

Are there signs that someone could be running away from a problem and not even realise it?

George: I think I did that (laughs), we ran a business before this and it got hard and I didn’t really feel myself, and rather than talking to anybody about it I just kinda left and went away but my problems were still there, even when I was in a different country and not in the office so I’ve definitely experienced that yeah.

James: I think what I hear a lot when people experience difficulty in their life or feeling a certain way, our first instinct is to look at our environment and things outside of ourselves; it’s my job, it’s my relationship, I’m not going to the gym enough, I’m drinking too much – and that might all well be the case yet I think it’s often more difficult to ask ourselves those inner questions like ‘is this something that I’m doing?’ I think the classic is to run away and go travelling and you take your problems with you, you can’t run away from yourself so yeah I think that often happens and its really natural because when we start to experience things and feel difficult emotions its hard. So the hardest thing to do is confront it or to put your hand up and ask for help or open up to a friend or family member, meditate and sit with your thoughts, all that stuff is really difficult so I think it’s natural to look outside of yourself initially.

It’s often more difficult to ask ourselves those inner questions like ‘is this something that I’m doing?’

Do you find Social Media plays a big part in these problems?

James: Social media gets a bad rap I think, it’s had a lot of blame and is a really easy scape-goat for poor mental health so I think a lot of people have jumped on Instagram/Facebook “oh they’re designing these engines to keep us addicted with notifications” – that is true, there are some very smart developers in Silicon Valley that are getting us hooked to our phone using these dopamine feedback loops and stuff, yet at the same time we all have choice of how we use social media and we’ve all got a relationship with it and social media can be used extremely positively. When I first opened up about my mental health I used social media to do that and it was an incredible outlet for me to express myself and actually connect with people. However, there’ve been times when I’ve used social media in a more negative way when I find myself scrolling, comparing my life to other people or just mindlessly looking through content that’s adding no value to my life so like with any substance it’s how you use it. You can use it positively or negatively but I think it’s unfair to wholesale blame social media for poor mental health.

Social media gets a bad rap I think, it’s had a lot of blame and is a really easy scape-goat for poor mental health.

 Do you see any common problems that we as a society should try to get to the root of?

James: I think first off, the perception of mental health is a big problem still. When you say the phrase ‘mental health’, across the UK at least, and probably across the world people think that phrase equates to mental illness so we don’t have a holistic broad view of mental health yet like we do with our physical health. When I say ‘physical health’ or ‘health’ people straight away think of fitness, healthy eating, diets, you don’t just jump straight to thinking about injury and disease. Whereas if I talk about mental health everyone straight away is like, depression, anxiety, suicide…and those things exist but it’s not the whole of mental health; what it’s like to feel good, confident, to be fulfilled, to have purpose in your life, to have healthy relationships, to feel connected. So I don’t think we’re having a holistic conversation about mental health which I think is holding people back from talking about it.

When I say ‘physical health’ or ‘health’ people straight away think of fitness, healthy eating, diets, you don’t just jump straight to thinking about injury and disease…

James Routledge Sanctus

And I think one of the biggest problems in the world right now is lack of real community and real connection. In a big city like London in particular where there’s 14 million people, I think people feel pretty alone and don’t feel that connected to one another so I think there’s a lot of isolation and loneliness.

There’s also a lot of shame. I think people feel like, because it’s almost not acceptable to feel difficult emotions a lot of the time, especially in men. When people feel sad or lonely or angry, those feelings almost aren’t socially acceptable and they get shunned and people feel embarrassed by that and that’s the start of a pretty downwards cycle.

Do you think there are more ways we could lean on each other and become more inter-dependant?

James: One hundred percent, I think just generally opening up more and connecting with each other and spending more real time with each other. Again, I can only speak for guys here but in my experience, going down the pub and having a beer and a conversation with mates, isn’t always like a real conversation, or as honest or as open as it could be. So yeah, I think there’s a way we could all be more honest with each other and ask for help more and talk about our feelings more which I don’t think happens at all.

George: I think the more honest and the more vulnerable you are, especially around close friends and family that creates connection in itself. Whereas when we were younger our version of connection was maybe going down the pub for a few drinks. Actually, a deeper connection comes from you saying how you really feel to a friend or a family member and that’s where I personally get a deeper connection from.

James: And you feel less alone when you do that, because if you’re feeling a bit down or sad or stressed or maybe just a bit off in your life; dealing with that sort of stuff on your own is hard and it can make you feel worse about yourself. Yet as soon as you start to share that and open up and someone actually really listens to you, or just says yeah, I felt a bit like that last year, you just instantly feel more human and more connected to a friend or family member.

As soon as you start to share that and open up and someone actually really listens to you, … you just instantly feel more human and more connected to a friend or family member.

George Bettany Sanctus

How has the coaching benefitted the companies and individuals you see?

George: People feel cared for and actually supported at work. I think this conversation of ‘let’s talk about mental health’ and ‘let’s move the conversation forward’ is a great narrative to have; but if you only have that narrative and don’t actually have a space where people can talk it’s disconnected really. So the businesses that are actually investing in a space like Sanctus where people can actually work on things and talk about stuff, I think it means that employees truly feel cared for, supported and as a result stay at the business, they don’t want to leave and maybe work that little bit harder. There’s other things we’ve seen too like less sick leave, less absence and I think we’ll really start to see in the next couple of years the true ROI of people working on their mental health.

I think we’ll really start to see in the next couple of years the true ROI of people working on their mental health.

I think the hardest thing to track is the upside of people working on their mental health proactively. Traditionally it’s been focused on those people struggling more and how do you help them have less time off work for example. Whereas, when I saw James work on his mental health proactively, I saw him improve and that was aspirational for me and that made me want to work on myself and I’ve got so much out of my own life from doing that. So how we actively encourage people to work on themselves, before it gets to a point where they have to, I think that’s really important.

how we actively encourage people to work on themselves, before it gets to a point where they have to, I think that’s really important.

Mental Health wellbeing

Would you say the vision for Sanctus is to put a mental health gym on the high street?

James: Yeah, the big vision is mental health gyms on the high street and safe spaces where people can go and connect and get a sense of community and work on their mental health in loads of different ways as well. So, obviously our flagship product right now is Sanctus Coaching, it’s a brilliant way to open up to someone that’s impartial, you’ll be really listened to, they’re well trained in asking provocative questions or make an intervention or hold up a mirror to you to keep you accountable in either what you’ve committed to or the way in which you want to grow in your life. I think I’ve seen and many people on our team have  seen the benefits of doing different things to work on your mental health; yoga, meditation, comedy, art, running.. all these things can help you grow in different ways, so like the gym on the high street, there’s loads of different machines and there’s loads of different ways you can work on your mental health.

Yoga, meditation, comedy, art, running… all these things can help you grow in different ways, so like the gym on the high street, there’s loads of different machines and there’s loads of different ways you can work on your mental health.

George: We also want to be the trusted brand in mental health, the Nike, the Base or the Adidas of mental health. That’s what we feel is missing, a trusted, safe brand where people know that when they go to that gym or they buy the app or go to a coaching space that they are going to be safe and that’s what we feel is missing in the mental health space basically.

How would you encourage someone who’s paralysed with depression or anxiety or stress, to seek help when all they may want to do is just escape or wallow?

James: I think you’ve got to give people permission initially and even doing something like this and just sharing a story or hearing a story can give someone the permission to know that what they’re feeling is completely normal and completely ok. For the vast majority of people, everything that you’re feeling or you’re going through, someone else has also gone through so I think the best thing we can do is give people permission that how they’re feeling is completely ok and they’re not alone and that’s normal.

Just sharing a story or hearing a story can give someone the permission to know that what they’re feeling is completely normal and completely ok.

James: I think also there are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like when you ask for help or when you go and sit down with a therapist or a coach. I think often people have this perception that they’re going to walk in, they’re gonna have to lie down on their back and bare all and talk about their relationship with their Dad or their Mum… that’s not the case. If you meet a good coach they will meet you where you’re at and if where you’re at is you’re terrified of even asking for help or the thought of even opening up is completely frightening then you’ll start there. Just like if you went to the gym and you’ve never lifted a weight before, you’d start off with some light stretching or a 1kg weight and build up to lifting 10kg or 20kg, its exactly like that with your mental health.

I think often when we’re really in a place where we’re scared because what we’re going through might feel quite big there’s this fear that we’re going to have to rip the plaster off and bleed everywhere and that just not what it’s like and I think we’ve just been sold a really dated view of mental health, with people in straight jackets and therapists in cord trousers, its just so 1950’s and this is 2020 and the worlds moved on and mental health is a lot different and a lot more accessible than it used to be.

We’ve just been sold a really dated view of mental health, with people in straitjackets and therapists in cord trousers, it’s just so 1950’s and this is 2020 and the worlds moved on and mental health is a lot different and a lot more accessible than it used to be.

If you’d like to find out more about Sanctus and they could help you or your business check them out here!

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