James Routledge is a man on a mission. That mission is to put the world’s first mental health gym’s on the high street and inspire people to work on their mental health proactively, like we do with physical health.

In this session, we explored James’ journey as a founder/CEO of his company, Sanctus.

James spoke with clarity about his own journey with Sanctus, and how it lead to him eventually standing down as CEO. The community really rallied behind one another for the duration of this session, so a big thank you for that!

These amazing notes were bought together by Hannah Silverstein. Massive thank you!

The culture of mental health is so silent that people feel alone. But you aren’t alone. Its everywhere. Mental health affects all of us in one way or another. 

James is keen to start these conversations, and encourage people to be part of them, because when he was younger, mental health wasn’t something we talked about, it wasn’t on any agenda, and it wasn’t something we heard about in school. Now we are more aware of it, it’s everywhere, and it affects everything: our work, our environment, or relationships – it’s at the heart of all of us. 

For the past 10-20 years we have been doing mental health in the dark. Doing it alone. But we believe at Sanctus that the next move in mental health is about doing it together.

James believes that by having more honest conversations, by sharing our experiences, by connecting with others and working through this together, things will be brighter for us all.

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James sees himself as part of the mental health conversation. Wanting to share his own lived experience. So he began by sharing his story:

“I like to talk about mental health, not in a prescriptive way, but in a conversational way… almost like a podcast where people can listen, and take from it what they need, and what resonates”.

I only started fully experiencing mental health when I shut down a business that I started.
I dropped out of Uni to start this business. I was at Uni and I was lost. I was searching for meaning, searching for myself, for something to make me feel fulfilled. I thought starting a business, being an entrepreneur would be my golden ticket…But I never really had a purpose. The business never had a purpose. And actually, I was scared. But I believed that if I kept going, it I kept working, it would all be ok.

“The problem was not that my fuel had run out, but that there was no fuel there in the first place”.

I was constantly pushing myself but there was no fire. I had no purpose. I felt quite numb.

My head guided me to shut down the business, and in the wake of that I felt deeply ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious. I was experiencing panic attacks and I felt like a failure. I couldn’t separate myself from the business, because it was such a huge part of my identity. But really, I didn’t fail, the business did, and that’s ok. 

“Although rock bottom is terrible, and awful, it can also be a place of growth and transformation. And I’m grateful for that”. 

I turned to a journal and started writing how I was feeling. It became my outlet to try and make sense of everything. I also turned to meditation. I was raising my awareness to how I was feeling and getting in touch with my thoughts and emotions. It helped me work through things into a place of acceptance.

This helped me to start opening up to people, too. I actually begun by opening up to people I didn’t know. I wrote blogs and put it out there on social media. 

“I began to feel connected. Like I wasn’t alone. It was my way of finding support and opening up.”

That’s where the Sanctus movement began. I shared more blogs, more conversations and started doing events. I naturally grew into the business, organically, rather than pushing and wanting, it was natural. It wasn’t about me so much, but more the feeling that: “the world needs this, and I can contribute”.

Its not about finding your purpose, it’s about feeling PURPOSEFUL. It’s not the object of the thing you chase, its about being drawn to something. We should all follow what feels purposeful for us.

5 years in, and Sanctus has grown massively. Our brand is about working on our mental health, just like we would our physical health. I’m so proud of what we have created, and the impact we have had on people. The space we have created, and the cultures we have changed in the workplace.

James continued to share his next blip in mental health, which almost echoed his first experience and how he navigated through that, too. 

In summary, James shares this message:

Mental health is more of a constant practice and process in our lives, than something we can complete. It’s not about what is next, or achieving that thing we want to achieve, its building up a picture. Its constantly changing – we should stay curious and look after ourselves.

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Here are some highlights from the Q and A with James:

 How can we bring honest conversations about mental health into the workplace?

The best thing we can do is just show up. Focussing on our own mental health naturally starts conversations. You know all those cliches that are cheesy, but so true: when you work on yourself, and help fill up your own cup, that wellbeing and positivity will start to have an impact, and naturally come into the workplace. You never know how your conversations will affect others. 

But I’m not a leader, I’m not in leadership so how can I really affect the mental health conversation?

Well, really, there aren’t any leadership positions in mental health. When we go to work, we are all humans, despite our job roles. So, in the way you show up, you can be a leader in leading the conversation. When you become a champion of your own mental health, just by showing up and sharing it, it will naturally ripple out from you and affect others. Anyone can make an impact in mental health. 

When working from home, can structure help with mental health?


I actually prefer to use the word ritual instead of structure. Structure is so rigid, whereas rituals are easier, more positive, more consistent, and encourage growth. One ritual we do within the Sanctus community is journal for half an hour, every morning before we start work. This is something that has helped me massively, and that you can join in with, too. I also find time every day to go for a walk, so we have to ask ourselves what will help me right now?

You referenced journaling in your talk and just now, can you tell us more?


Yes- we [Sanctus] run journaling sessions every morning on Zoom from 8.30-9. It’s the first class in our mental health gym. Its quiet, and calm, just a space for you and your thoughts and your feelings. 

Can you offer any advice for someone self-employed who is struggling with motivation during lockdown?


I know it’s tough, but motivation has to be an intrinsic thing. It has got to come from you. Find things that make you feel purposeful, that give you that buzz. Find ways to feel connected, that give you energy. Mediation and self-care helps to soothe me, makes me feel calm and relaxed. And some other things that fill me up, like these journaling sessions, and having an impact on people through Sanctus. I feel connected to my work, and that gives me buzz and energy to do more. 

You mentioned wanting to open up the first mental health gyms on the high street, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Yeah, it’s a huge dream. And when I said it in a panel discussion 5 years ago, its followed me around – one of the best things I’ve ever said. It says everything about what we stand for and what we do. It captivates that sense of belonging, doing it together, feeling connected, making it more public. Our journaling sessions are that, a mental health gym. We are hoping to expand this out into a timetable. There are so many ways to work on your mental health. There are so may experiences in our lives that can provide growth, healing and exploration; ways to express and connect. And that’s the vision with the mental health gym having them on the high street. But that’s a long term vision and we are starting it online right now– like a Peloton experience for mental health.

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James is also writing a book on mental health in the workplace with Penguin at the moment.. and we can’t wait for it!

This event was live on 19 Jan 2021, 12:00