Ask the Expert: being proactive on mental health

Ask the Expert: being proactive on mental health

We spoke with George Bettany, co-founder of Sanctus, a firm helping businesses pro-actively support their teams to achieve better mental health, about the challenges of making mental wellbeing part of a business’ culture. With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue each year in the UK, and the cost of mental health rising for businesses, it’s a huge challenge in terms of staff retention, productivity and bottom line.

Sanctus’ aim is to create a world where mental health is viewed in the same way as physical health. George and his co-founder James are on a mission to make it easier for everyone to have more effective conversations about mental health and aim to put the first mental health gyms on the high street up and down the UK.

George, could you give a bit of an overview of Sanctus – how it was set up and what you want to achieve?

“Our main vision is fairly simple. We want to make working on your mental health as normal and accessible as it is to work on your physical health. We’re helping businesses and their people change their mindsets around what looking after your mental health means.

“We started the business back in 2016 after facing the pressures of running a business ourselves. James and I ran a tech business and, like most people, weren’t particularly open about our mental health despite all the pressures that come with running and growing a business.

“Following an anxiety attack on the tube, James started a blog about mental health within start-ups and the response was huge. We realised just how many people were in a similar situation to ourselves – maybe not experiencing a ‘traditional’ mental health challenge, but not feeling like ourselves. Sanctus came about as a result and is now helping people improve how they manage their mental health every day.”

We’ve talked about addressing mental health in a proactive way, can you explain a bit more about that?

“There’s a really important statistic that one in four of us face a mental health issue each year. But it is equally as important to remember that all of us have mental health.

“In my previous work, I started to not feel like myself. This weird feeling was building up over time and because I was bottling it up, it wasn’t allowing me to bring my best self to work. I think it’s really common to not address the root cause until a problem comes to the surface.

“It’s strange since it doesn’t match how many of us look at physical health. We go to the GP when there’s a problem, we also know that eating right and exercise can help us be healthier physically. Physical fitness is viewed aspirationally, but we don’t often view mental health in the same way. We want to change that and make the approach to mental health more like physical health – manageable, consistent and made up of simple everyday steps for people to achieve better mental wellbeing.

“We work with businesses to help leadership teams and employees think about their mental health more proactively, through one-to-one personal training sessions with our expert coaches. We now have thousands of bookings for these sessions every month with people from all kinds of businesses – from the new start-ups in tech to more traditional businesses like energy.

What kinds of practical steps do you take with businesses to help shift mindsets in this way?

“I think it’s really important for everyone to start with themselves. That could be taking some time to self-reflect – for instance 15 minutes at the start of the day to write down how you’re feeling and connect with your mental health. It sounds so simple but so few of us actually make time to process how we’re feeling.

“On a business level, be open about it. I’m always surprised at how little feedback most businesses get on this issue. So, a good place to start would be a specific mental health employee survey, firstly to show that the leadership team are open to engaging in a conversation about mental health, and secondly to really understand how your people are feeling about mental health and what they need in terms of support.

“A lot of businesses have employee assistance programmes in place but say that there’s not that much take-up. What we’ve spotted is that as these schemes aren’t personal there can be a barrier to people using them. Many people, even if they’re dealing with a serious issue, don’t want to ring up an unknown number and find the whole process of engaging with these programmes is daunting. It is worth noting that  these specialist provisions are extremely important for people who need support, however it is a very reactive approach. As we’ve discussed, we believe pro-actively supporting people to achieve better mental health across an organisation is much more sustainable and effective. We see 25% take up of our service on average, vs. c.5% for employee assistance programmes – this shows the demand is there for a safe space for people to work on their mental health.

“To drive engagement with Sanctus we have an introduction event where the senior leadership team will explain who we are, why we have forged a partnership, why it’s important to the business and show some vulnerability in talking about their own mental health. In our experience this helps to get people to buy into the programme. We then offer personalised one-to-one sessions with our coaches, who are assigned to a business for consistency, alongside practical mental health content throughout the year. Because the dialogue is open it allows people to connect with the programme in ways they don’t with employee assistance programmes.

“Ultimately the key for businesses is to change the perspective on mental health, normalise the conversation, and keep it consistent.”

To find out more about how Sanctus can support you and your employees’ mental health, click here.

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