“Starting a mental health business doesn’t mean you have good mental health,” says James Routledge. “I probably thought it would.” The founder of Sanctus, which enables people at work to talk about their feelings with trained therapists, opened up to me about his own mental health issues.
Now 29, Routledge was born and bred in Stoke, which – as he describes it – is (or was when he was growing up) the last refuge of northern machismo. “It’s not somewhere where you speak about your feelings. I don’t think I even knew I had feelings.” He studied history and politics at Sheffield University, “but I was a bit bored and I wanted to try something different”. So in his second year, in 2012, he started a sports-related business, connecting people at live events – which took off, raising £600k, and he duly dropped out of college at 21. “The business was born of the frenetic energy of students,” says Routledge. “But in fact it didn’t have a clear reason for its existence.”
He adopted the aggressive start-up mindset and mouthed all the mantras, “Hustle hard, move fast and break things.” But on the inside he was struggling and had a serious dose of impostor syndrome. “I was scared of failure. I’d told all my friends and family I was going to make it. I knew it wasn’t quite right, but I pushed on anyway for the next three and a half years.” Then he ran into a wall.