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We All Have Mental Health – An interview with James Routledge, Founder of Sanctus

28 Sep 2021

As with all our articles, we want to talk with interesting people about important topics.  

James Routledge, founder of Sanctus, a brand that he wished had existed for him and for millions of others, tells us his story and the importance of keeping this topic at the top of the agenda. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we do.


James, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.   Where do I start…?  I have followed Sanctus for some time now, I love the ethos behind your business.   I have always believed that for a person to perform at their best, their whole self needs to be present, well, and catered for.   ‘Leave your personal life at the door’ really doesn’t cut it. 
I built Bohemian HR Limited with kindness and well-being at its core… really because that is what’s at my core.   I know your story is well documented, but tell us a little about your drivers in the creation of Sanctus?  What's at your core?

I think at my core really is a desire to express myself freely, all of myself. I really value freedom and creativity, so I want to be able to be me in this world. To "be me" I feel like I need to get to know me, through exploration, connecting and reflection, then I also need to be in a wider environment that's full of acceptance, compassion, and love. 

When I was struggling with my mental health, I was confused, didn't know what was going on with me and didn't feel like I could share how I was feeling. Now I look at it, knowing what I deeply value now and Sanctus was my attempt to right the injustice I was feeling, and many others were to.  

I imagine the discussion around mental health in business has become much more open, how difficult was it to be heard in the beginning?

I'll be honest I think I was lucky. Young, white guy who'd had some start-up experience - I was coming from a privileged place. Not everyone listened to me, but a lot of people did. I had a good network too, that helped and I'm a decent communicator. 5 years ago, mental health was a little more marmite, people either looked at me funny and slowly walked away or others looked at me with this fierce intensity and wanted to share stories. From the perspective of the workplace, I think mental health used to be a luxury offering in businesses, or progressive, now it's a standard necessity, or is becoming that way. 

James Routledge, Founder of Sanctus

Are we there now?  Do we understand the importance of facing this topic head-on?

I think we are there. I don't mean we've sorted it out, but I think from an awareness level I think we're very very close. The conversation used to be about education and convincing people mental health was a thing. Now we're debating approaches which is a huge step forward. Many businesses are bringing in mental health strategies and are talking very openly about mental health at work, other businesses are still avoidant, yet now, people notice the avoidance. Not doing anything about mental health in the workplace is now an active decision that people will notice. 

What are the main services you offer?   How do people access your services?

Sanctus Coaching is our main product, it's 1:1 coaching with a qualified Sanctus Coach for surviving in this chaotic world and thriving too. We're about a range of mental health, not just mental ill-health. So, we want you to come and chat to a coach when you want to check something out, understand a niggle that's on your mind, or discuss an opportunity in your life.

How do you ensure the offering is fit for purpose?  I suppose what I am asking is, how can businesses ensure that the solution they provide will align with the needs of their people, organisation, and culture?

That's for the business to decide. Every business is different and will want to tailor its own approach to mental health in their workplace. That'll mean different suppliers, policies, and ways of working. Sanctus isn't right for everyone.   

My network is predominantly HR/People focused.   The responsibility for mental health and well-being often falls at their door.  Some HR people do not feel equipped/trained to manage some of the situations that arise.   What advice and guidance could you give to my network in upskilling themselves?

The biggest thing for most HR people is boundaries and being very clear on what you are and what you are not. You’re not a counsellor or therapist for your team. Listening to someone might be part of the job, but there's a difference between listening to someone to feed it back into the business and listening to someone to heal their anxieties. HR people must prioritise their own self-care and invest in learning more about their own mental health, do this and you'll instantly become more empathetic, compassionate, and better equipped to regulate yourself whilst still caring for others and doing a good job.

From my discussions, a lot of people have reflected on what they do, how they do it, and where, I feel the desire to give something back or follow their dreams seems bigger than ever.   Do you get the same feeling?   It's not always so easy so what are the small things we can do to feel that we are at least edging closer?

People have had a lot of time to reflect, my sense is many people are asking themselves some big questions right now. I don't really know the answer to that one. In my own life, I know that when I'm feeling something it helps me to write it down, verbalise it, talk about it with a friend, or a coach. If I'm feeling something big and existential, I feel like I need to process it and sometimes I need help with that. Then I usually just start doing whatever it is I'm dreaming of, try not to overthink.

I love to laugh and smile, and I know both these emotions can enhance mental health, what ways do you have to lighten the business world? 

Love this, I love play. I try to be silly in the office or the virtual office. I make jokes, I'm sarcastic, I try and lighten things. Bring some fun and perspective into things, it's work, for most people, your job isn't life or death.  

How chuffed are you that our mental health, well-being, and happiness are topics at the boardroom?

Absolutely delighted. Even more delighted that I don't think it's going anywhere, this isn't a fad. Health as a business priority is here to stay.

Finally, congratulations on your book!!  Super exciting.   How does it feel to be an author?!  

Amazing, everything I've learned in one place, and I honestly think it's a good book that could support anyone interested in mental health. Really pleased with it.

Super delighted that you took part in this interview, if people want to get involved where should we direct them?

Connect with me on LinkedIn: James Routledge. No better way, I post all the time.  

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