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Mental Health at Work by the founder of Sanctus

Mental Health

James Routledge, the founder of Sanctus, which helps employees navigate their mental health, writes about the issue in the workplace and why it inspired him to write a new book...

Five years ago I had no idea what mental health was. I barely knew how to express an emotion. My way of coping with my feelings was to cover them up with booze and nights out at the weekend. Five years on and I’ve founded one of the UK’s leading mental health businesses and written a book on mental health in the workplace, called Mental Health at Work, published by Penguin.

I had a period of intense anxiety back in 2015 where I was having panic attacks, sleepless nights and questioning my whole life. It was an existential crisis where I really didn’t know who I was any more and I really didn’t understand why I was feeling the way I was, or even what those feelings were. With my lack of knowledge and education around mental health and my emotions in general, I simply thought I had a physical health problem. Really it was much deeper than that.

I began opening up about mental health, both publicly through writing and privately through journaling and conversations with friends, family and colleagues. The experience was profound and my life changed a lot. I changed a lot. With a desire to heal and to belong in the world whilst struggling with my mental health, I created the company I wanted to exist. A brand that normalises the conversation around mental health and creates accessible spaces to talk to someone about how you feel. I started Sanctus and we began partnering with businesses to reach people at work and get people working on their mental health, before things got out of control.

After five years growing Sanctus from 0-100 business partners across the UK, 50 coaches supporting thousands of employees with their mental health every month, I set about writing a book that outlines everything I’ve learned. From no experience of mental health, to a lot. Whilst working with some of the most progressive businesses in the country too, some incredible leaders and mental health champions who know how to create workplace cultures where people can really be themselves.

First off, I want to continue to break down the taboo and mysticism around mental health with some plain English that people understand. No neuroscience or jargon, just simple, relatable storytelling that helps people connect to the subject of mental health, as well as some much needed myth busting. Breaking the myth that talking about mental health is a form of weakness, or that mental health is a catch-all phrase for mental illness – really mental illness is one part of health more broadly.

Secondly, I’ve shared insight on how I’ve learned to have comfortable conversations about mental health both at work and at home. We have this story in our heads that talking about our feelings is this huge occasion. It can be, yet it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be in the smoking area of a nightclub or after five pints either. We can start small and talk about mental health more easily in our day to day lives, even with our boss at work.

Finally, I’ve shared some inspiration from businesses around the UK and across the world who are creating awesome places to work in a variety of different ways. Businesses where people truly can talk about their mental health at work, like we might our physical health. Companies that are more like communities, than businesses, companies where people really feel like they belong, like they matter.

I’d like to think this book could be for anyone. We all have mental health and we all work at least in some capacity, or will have a relationship with the world of work. Our work impacts us, our workplace impacts our mental health as do our relationships that we form at work. Yet we also carry our own baggage, our own stories and traumas that we might be bringing into the workplace too. A deeper understanding of the relationship that we all have between ourselves and our work is so important, as it’s a place we often spend so much time. And increasingly a relationship that is becoming ever more complex as the blend between work and home has merged throughout the covid pandemic.

I see much hope in the role that businesses can play in progressing the conversation and changing the culture around mental health. I see many opportunities too for individuals to play their part in the mental health movement at work and in their relationships inside and outside of work.

What I do know is that this book is well-timed and incredibly important. I don’t promise to have all the answers yet I do think this book could help us all ask some good questions.


James Routledge is the founder of Sanctus and author of Mental Health at Work.

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