James Routledge knows only too well the stresses and pressures of running a startup. While he was building a company several years ago he succumbed to anxiety attacks which eventually rendered him unable to continue. But as one dream of success died, another emerged, and today Routledge leads Sanctus.io, a new brand aiming to change perceptions of mental health and put the first “mental health gym” on the high street.
Sanctus run group therapy session at their Shoreditch HQ and conduct coaching in many of London’s corporates and tech businesses, including Aviva, BCG, Transferwise, Onfido and Carwow.
Routledge is candid about his own history on social media as well as in person, and in a reversal of the usual business logic, his candour is a vital asset to the Sanctus mission.
“Sanctus was born out of my own frustration and experiences with my mental health and being on a mission to change the perception of mental health, to get people to treat their mental health like their physical health,” he says.
With business partner George Bettany he is building an accessible and attractive brand around therapy, with a vision of building no less than “the Nike of mental fitness”.
It’s worth aiming high, particularly in a sector populated largely by under 30s like the startup scene. 75 per cent of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment, while suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK, and the leading single killer of men under the age of 45.
Those figures make sense when considered against the stigma round talking about mental illness, and the mystery surrounding traditional treatments such as therapy. Sanctus, by contrast offer easy – and importantly, sociable – routes towards addressing issues.
“We’re not asking you to so something strong and bold and difficult,” say Rose Scanlon-Jones, Sanctus’s community manager. “We’re slowly changing the perception so you feel more comfortable to talk about your mental health and acknowledge other people’s mental health.”
Central to that is doing so IRL rather than virtually – person-to-person instead of in a forum or over social media. “It’s incredibly important to have real life human beings to talk to, because science says that’s what’s going to help you the most,” adds Scanlon-Jones.
Sanctus is going from strength to strength, and now employs 13 staff and coaches, with over 400 people attending coaching sessions per month. And just as the founders of Nike encoded fitness and performance into every aspect of their lives, James Routledge knows that living the brand’s values are key to the success of the endeavour, as well as to his own wellbeing.
“The number one thing I do to stay well is coaching and therapy,” he says. “Having spaces and individuals I can share with and talk about what’s going on in my head.”