Playing chess. I find it stimulating and it makes me laugh. It’s such an amazing game. So much variety and history within it. I have an ongoing game of chess with one of the engineers in my team, Anthony, who continuously beats me. But it’s lovely to have that and I’ve always been a big fan of online chess. I also used to play chess with my 90-year-old grandmother when she was alive, and it was a really valuable part of our relationship.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interviewDr. Nick Taylor.
Dr. Nick Taylor is CEO and co-founder of Unmind, the authoritative, trusted workplace mental health platform. Throughout his career, Dr. Taylor has always worked in mental health. During his time as a lead clinical psychologist in Britain’s National Health Service, he realized the true importance of giving people the right care at the right time, and why the focus on mental health needs to be preventative.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in a family with three other children. Initially in London, England, then we moved to Oxfordshire, then Salisbury, then Hereford — so I moved around a lot. My three sisters are Catherine, Jessica, and Anna. My parents did an amazing job of giving us a happy and fun childhood. My middle sister Jessica has Down syndrome, so from a very young age I was aware that some people are different. And that they can be treated differently by society. That had a profound impact on me growing up.
My family and I always loved music. Growing up, I was a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, which I loved, and instilled in me a lifelong passion for music. I actually later studied classical music as my undergrad degree.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
Unmind is a workplace mental health platform designed to empower employees to proactively measure, understand, and improve their wellbeing. Typically organizations have focused on providing their employees with reactive mental health solutions, such as employee assistance programs and occupational health. But rather than focusing solely on those who are already experiencing challenges — roughly 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental ill-health each year — we need to proactively and preventatively support the 5 in 5. Not only does this approach improve the lives of employees, it also boosts business performance by reducing the huge costs that come with absenteeism and presenteeism as a result of poor mental health.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My undergrad dissertation looked at the impact of Stanley Kubrick’s use of György Ligeti’s music in his films. For those who know it, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the first time Kubrick used Ligeti’s music. It’s really abstract, grown-up classical music that’s ultimately pretty hard to access. It was almost jarring to see it in this Hollywood film — but it’s amazingly effective. This introduced me to the psychology of music.
That was my first foray into academic psychology. I realized how much I loved learning about the discipline. So I started volunteering with the Samaritans, the leading U.K. helpline for people in crisis, which I found incredibly rewarding. After graduation, I started as a frontline support worker at the U.K. mental health charity, Mind, supporting people with severe and enduring mental illnesses.
At that time I was supervised by a clinical psychologist called Peter, who saw the world through a lens which I found inspiring. The way he thought about the people we were supporting was really helpful and valuable. He inspired me to go back to university and study psychology, and then do a doctorate in clinical psychology.
As I worked in the world of mental health as a clinical psychologist, I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that people weren’t able to access services in a timely way; that people couldn’t get the right care at the right time. I was also frustrated that, as a society, we weren’t focusing on prevention when it came to mental health. We’ve always said that prevention is better than cure — but the world of mental health is stuck in the dark ages, unreasonably. We must focus on prevention in mental health.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
There were many triggers, though one has stuck in my mind. I was on holiday in South Africa with my family. By chance, I bumped into a friend over breakfast. While we were standing on the beach together, I asked him, “What are you doing at the moment?” He said, “I’m working in Johannesburg running mindfulness sessions for corporates.” And that was an “aha” moment.
I realized what I wanted to do: devote myself to taking preventive mental health approaches into organizations, empowering employees to look after their mental health in a really proactive way. So that was the final trigger for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There are so, so many. I will never forget standing at the first conference we went to. We were such a new organization that we barely had a product (and we barely had any content on that product). What became our first client came up to us and said, “This looks amazing and I love the philosophy behind your approach. Can you roll out to our organization?” There were thousands of people within this organization. We nodded and said, “Yes of course,” knowing it would be a real stretch. The contract was signed and we started working with the company, which was Yorkshire Building Society. And I’m thrilled to say we’re working with them all these years later — with a much more sophisticated platform.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Unmind is what it is because of the team. Every single person within Unmind contributes to creating what it is today. That’s both internal and external contributors. To name a few, our chairman, Michael Whitfield, founder of Thomsons Online Benefits, has been incredible, as has his co-founder Chris Bruce. Our investors at Felix Capital and Project A have all been brilliant. And several other been-there-and-done-that entrepreneurs who have helped us navigate the complicated world of venture capital. You certainly can’t do it without wise people around you.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
A huge part of this related back to the reactive focus on the 1 in 5 that I mentioned earlier. If as a society we continue to only think about mental health when there’s a problem, we begin to think of it as synonymous with mental ill-health, thus perpetuating the stigma. There’s also a lack of understanding and education on the topic, though we’re making progress on this front. If there are any silver linings to COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, it’s that mental health has been brought into the mainstream as a topic of conversation and national focus. We’re a step closer to gaining parity for mental and physical health, which is where we need to be to break the stigma for good.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
- Individuals need to be empowered to proactively nurture their own mental wellbeing. Like brushing our teeth twice a day to avoid corrosion, managing mental health should be a daily activity. And this could be many things, from getting a good night’s sleep to taking in enough exercise, from meditating to spending time with family.
- On a societal level, we need not just the awareness and education, but also the support and resources to manage mental health better. Preventative support also ultimately works as early intervention, which is the most effective form of reactive care.
- Governments can help in many ways, from providing grants to mental health charities and organizations to sourcing advice from experts in the field to inform policy. The case for greater investment into mental health services isn’t just a human imperative, but also an economic one. Economies lose an incredible amount of money each year due to lost productivity through mental ill-health.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Exercise. I try to make time every day to go for a run, do some push-ups, or go for a bike ride. I live in the countryside so it’s great to run out through the fields. I’ve also recently got a puppy, and we went for our first run together the other day, which I really enjoyed.
- Spending time with friends and family. It’s like how a battery needs a charger — it reinvigorates me. This means my wife and three children, who I love. Although once I’ve changed the umpteenth diaper for the day, it doesn’t always feel like it’s good for my wellbeing. But, overall, the experience is positive.
- Having a sense of purpose. Making sure I feel very purposeful in my life. I certainly get that with Unmind.
- Playing chess. I find it stimulating and it makes me laugh. It’s such an amazing game. So much variety and history within it. I have an ongoing game of chess with one of the engineers in my team, Anthony, who continuously beats me. But it’s lovely to have that and I’ve always been a big fan of online chess. I also used to play chess with my 90-year-old grandmother when she was alive, and it was a really valuable part of our relationship.
- Learning. It’s really important to me because it stimulates my mind.
- Gardening. I find gardening incredibly mindful. You really focus on the task you’re doing. I’ve recently inherited a garden that has been loved for a long time but needs a lot of work done.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Books: I recently read a book called The Overstory by Richard Powers, all about nature. It highlights not just the majesty of the ancient trees around us, but also the role we all play within nature. Crucially, the importance of it being symbiotic in value.
Podcast: I loved Ruby Wax’s new podcast on Audible, which is called “Ruby Wax’s No-Brainer.” It’s well worth a listen.
Resources: There are so many great people doing so much great work that together we are collectively pushing the agenda. To name a few, Poppy Jaman who is the CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance in the U.K., Georgie Harman from Beyond Good over in Australia, Tom Insel in the U.S. and the wonderful work he’s done. There’s Garen Staglin with the One Mind Institute, Jonny Benjamin who’s done so much to break the stigma around suicide and also great work on children’s mental health, and so many others.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The best value we can all bring as people is to be purposeful in what we do. Because that’s how we can have the biggest impact. There are broad ways to interpret this. We can have a positive impact on our society by making beautiful music, by making art, by working in nurseries, by being teachers, by being healthcare professionals, by being lawyers — whatever, so long as it aligns with our values as individuals so that we can do it in an authentic way. That authenticity brings enormous value to those around it.
In terms of the environment, I think young people have the biggest opportunity to correct the wrongs of previous generations by helping to rebalance the wildness of the earth. If ever there were a purpose to get involved in as a young person, that’s it.
How can our readers follow you online?
The work through Unmind. That’s the best way to follow me. I don’t have personal accounts anywhere else.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!