#10 – Changing the perception of mental health and building the first mental health gym - Sanctus



Sanctus are a community of people who believe in mental fitness. They talk openly about mental health, they talk publicly about it and champion Sanctus and it’s mission with pride. They do this by sharing their story on SanctusTV, wearing Sanctus clothing or coming to Sanctus meetups.

Sanctus work with businesses to help them create an open environment where mental health is accepted within their workplace. They do this through their workshops and by putting Sanctus coaches into businesses.

They believe that to change the current perceptions around mental health; they must make it relatable, accessible and aspirational; not dark, depressing and expensive.

Their ultimate mission is to change the perception of mental health. They see a world where people view mental health like physical health and want to put the first mental health gym on the high street.

What this episode has in store for you

“Our mission is to change the perception of mental health and try to inspire people to work on their mental health and fitness, just like you would your physical fitness. Physical fitness is a normal, everyday, positive thing that everyone should do – we think mental health should be the same. Our biggest mission is to put the world’s first mental health gym on the high street within the next five years.”

“We help people work on their mental health in a number of ways – we create space to do a number of events each year, we have coaches who work with a whole range of businesses to help try and change the conversation around mental health in the workplace, as well as helping to create a space for people within the workplace to work on their mental health.”

“James, the co-founder of Sanctus, and I met at university. We became best mates and pretty quickly started an app, which after some time of working on it, didn’t grow the way we thought it would. We realised that underneath that exciting journey of building a company, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes which is really hard, and no one talks about that part of a business usually”

“So, it was after the closure of that initial business that Sanctus came to fruition. James and I both went into jobs investing in start-ups, and it was during this time that James started to suffer from anxiety attacks in meetings. It was the first time that mental health for either of us was a thing, and neither of us understood it. For us, it was the moment where we realised that for years, even as best mates, we had never talked about these kinds of things or really known where to go when we had mental health issues. Even at this point, the perception and ill-understanding of mental health and awareness still put James off admitting that he was suffering because it was such an inaccessible topic. That was the moment we realised that we wanted to commit ourselves to trying to change the perception of mental health completely.”

“It all started with a blog post that James wrote on mental health in start-ups, where he told people of his own personal journey. It got 20k views overnight and resulted in lots of emails with people getting in touch saying ‘thank you for being so honest about your journey’ because they had been through the same thing and felt the same way. We had thousands of people engaging and getting on board with it, so decided to continue to see where we could go with this momentum. As a result, we amassed this community and movement of thousands of people who believed in our mission and values of re-evaluating what mental health is and advocated our goal to put a mental health gym on the high street.”

“The day that people proudly walk into this gym and say ‘I’m working on my mental health’ is the day we have won and achieved our mission, because this is the day we have publicly changed the perception. In terms of what will actually be in, it would be similar to providing a space in a gym for a group class or a one-to-one personal trainer.”

“We have built a team of Sanctus coaches over the last 18 months who will create the space for people to work on their mental health. In our studio at the moment, we open it up for a group mental fitness class and it becomes a safe, impartial, confidential space that anyone can book into, which is facilitated by a professional coach. Over 300 people came into Sanctus last year, and people really loved it – it felt really unique to them completely impartially be asked ‘how are you’? and to be able to respond completely honestly. Sharing that with complete strangers and professionals was really special for all involved.”

“We started to see a whole range of different people in London, from bankers to those in start-ups, and gradually we realised that more and more senior figures in these companies were coming – CEOs, MDs etc who actually have no space of that nature at work because they are responsible to employees, customers, investors each and every day. After 3-4 months of coming in, it was actually those individuals who said to us that they were getting so much out of it, they wanted us to recreate this space in a larger format, as well as asking us to bring Sanctus into the workplace for their teams.”

“For us, what’s been so special is that, because people spend 95% of their time at work, which means that a lot of professional or personal challenges usually manifest in the workplace as that is where people spend most of their time, it means that straight away we can could see the impact Sanctus was having on individuals and their day-to-day life. It’s been a movement of thousands of people who also have a passion for mental health in the workplace. People are a part of this with us, which is amazing.”

“People told us in the early days to not call it mental health, but call it well-being as people are resistant to ‘mental health’ as a term. However, we felt this was succumbing to the stigma – it is mental health, so we are very clear to say it is that. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. We are all just on this spectrum at different points on our journey, so we have always stuck to that and if a business doesn’t want to work with us because we talk in this way, then we don’t try to work with them. Some people love it, and some aren’t quite ready.”

“It’s like going to the gym, where at first you can’t see why you’re going but then after six months you start to see a change – that’s what I see in individuals who come to Sanctus over time, and I hope that businesses will get to see this over time with happier and more productive staff.”

“With your mental health, it is difficult to tangibly say what has worked, which is where it departs from physical health – other than tracking it in yourself, in your gut. We don’t set goals because that’s when you set an ROI and that isn’t how it works – but we are starting to hear people to proudly open up about the impact that it has had on their day-to-day lives through Sanctus, which is hugely rewarding.”