How George Taktak of How Mental is turning his personal passion for mental wellbeing into one of the largest online communities for positive mental health.
Social entrepreneurs develop solutions to solve community problems. It can be rewarding, but as George Taktak, the founder of How Mental confides “one of the challenges of being a social entrepreneur is keeping a sense of purpose and the drive to persevere. At times it definitely feels that everyone is against you. I have had potential investors and big people literally try to laugh me out of the room because of what I’m doing” he recalls. “We would meet and they would say, ‘This is ridiculous!’ and ‘Who cares how people are feeling? No one cares about this.’”
Since those days, How Mental has evolved into a mental health community with more Instagram followers than the UK’s NHS.
This 27-year-old social entrepreneur is changing the world of mental health. George is dedicated to delivering easy-to-find, accessible and affordable tools for mental health.
In the process, he’s building a mental health community where people find support and resources in times of personal crisis.
“When you are going through a mental health crisis
if you don’t know where to look and you just start to Google
you will probably wind up in the least helpful places.”
Sailing on a blue-grey sea
George knew that he wasn’t going to fit neatly into a box after he graduated from the London School of Economics.
He recalls with a laugh how he began his internship at the Canary Wharf headquarters of a high street bank. “I realized when I started work that I was the only one wearing a red suit in a sea of blue and grey. I think that I am the only person who has ever been fired from an internship.”
It was a decisive moment for him. He recalls “I had always been told ‘Get a job that gets you good money and that’s it. Somehow you’ll end up liking it, or you’ll find ways to like it.” He laughs again as he adds, “ You know, that wasn’t me.”
While his peers were throwing themselves into newly found first jobs, George decided to make the leap. He decided to become an entrepreneur with the support and encouragement of a family friend.
At the moment he was making his decision, George received devastating news. His grandfather was losing his ability to speak as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
Rocked by the news and by the physical distance that separated them, George made a second decision. He became determined to find a way to communicate across the 5,000 km separating him from his grandfather in Lebanon. “I started developing an app to express a whole language of emotions that you can feel through vibrations. I thought of different ways of using a telephone. It’s a piece of hardware and often feels like something very soul-less. I wanted to make it into something that is creative and magical.”
George was convinced that he could develop an app with the sense of touch to connect physically distant people.
Sadly, George lost his grandfather while the app was still in development. His whole sense of purpose for creating the app vanished.
George is open about the harrowing mental pain he experienced during this period. His difficult journey ended with an increased awareness of the subject of mental health. Grappling with painful questions like “Why am I doing this ?” and “For who am I really doing this ?” gave George a clear sense of purpose and a vision of the potential of How Mental.
The community drives the movement
“How Mental exists to bring the whole mental health sector together. It is a community of people who are mental health advocates. It is individuals and organisations that may be start-ups, established corporations, charities or NGOs. We are creating a community where everyone is seeking to drive forward this mental health movement, empower it, and support each other along the way.”
Sharing his vision he explains, “There are all these different mental health services out there, public and private health sector. But if you don’t know where to look and you just start to Google you will probably wind up in the least helpful places.”
He adds, “And when you are going through a mental health crisis, searching for things on Google isn’t exactly the easiest process.”
“I want to unite the voices of individuals and organisations
committed to improving mental health
by offering a wide range of support and resources
…because no single service is the answer.”
George believes that there is no simple roadmap for social entrepreneurs. “There have been so many bumps in the road,” George recalls. “People would tell me, this isn’t going to make any money, it’s a charity case!”
He laughs again, “And now, it’s huge! Everyone is talking about mental health, it’s such an important space for innovation. And with the private sector coming in, we get innovation, continuous change and new ideas.”
Different things work…
How Mental is serving the needs of a very large neurodiverse community with a multi-platform approach? The approach combines the app, a website and its Instagram community. How Mental’s services include meditation, therapy, journaling, events, sleep support, podcasts but the list runs long.
“Different things work for different people. That’s how it looks. Firstly, a community of people helping each other. Secondly, a community of products that support these people. And above all, everyone coming together to help each other feel like themselves.”
Awareness of mental health and wellbeing continues to grow. Yet when a mental health crisis strikes, it can still be difficult to find the right help.
George admits that mental health struggles can often come with the baggage of stigma and shame.
George Taktak hopes to break this cycle of unnecessary suffering one “How are you feeling?” at a time.
For more on George Taktak and How Mental
howmental.com and Instagram @howmental
And read “Mental Wellbeing in an App – How Mental”
Feature image credit: George Taktak, founder of How Mental