London-based Fika, a platform that seeks to promote ‘mental fitness’ has raised £1.2 million in funding to develop its model as a proactive mental wellness tool for businesses and their employees. The funding was led by Rising Stars, with a syndicate of ten UK and US-based angel investors, including Biogen board member Brian Posner and NCFE CEO David Gallagher, who will both join Fika’s board.
Why Fika is different
The employee assistance programme (EAP) marketplace is crowded, and growing awareness of mental health has led to the creation of several mental health and wellbeing platforms. Fika, however, takes a different approach.
Traditional EAP programmes focus on recovery. In practice, employees will use them only after suffering an adverse event. The consequences of this are enormous. Co-founder Nick Bennett told UKTN it meant that many people did not get the help they need. “The EAP systems are in place for then they’ve hit the bottom, and you only get, on average, 8-10% usage,” he said. The consequence is that poor mental health has a huge business cost. Instead, Fika’s mission is to give ‘mental fitness’ the same level of awareness as ‘physical fitness’.
An image search can quickly reveal the difference, says Bennett, “if you search physical health, you see people in the park smiling, happy faces. But if you put in mental health,” he explained, “you get outlines of skills, or images with words like ‘depression.’”
Fika aims to promote mental fitness as a positive and proactive activity for everybody.
Fika offers a training platform, based around mental fitness, that can integrate with a company’s existing training programme. So, right from staff induction, staff are taught how to look after their mental health in the same way they are taught and encouraged to look after their physical health.
Gareth Fryer, Fika’s other co-founder, points out the considerable discrepancy between physical and mental health in the workplace. “For decades, we’ve trained people how to lift boxes. Why aren’t we training people how to manage their mental loads?”
The concept is simple. Instead of waiting for a problem to manifest, employees can be taught how to monitor and maintain their mental health. Whether it’s a graduate suffering from imposter syndrome in their first days, or a seasoned employee at risk of burnout from years of pressure and deadlines.
Fika has onboarded over seventy new clients this year, including retailer DFS, who are working with them to research to positive impact it is having. DFS are in the process of implementing Fika into its organisation, using the daily training to improve mental resilience among its staff and, where necessary, creating individualised pathways to help staff. The trail has been highly successful, with a high take up by staff and positive early impacts.
A practical origin
Both Bennett and Fryer came to the project with relevant lived experiences. Bennett realised the importance of mental fitness training and education when a life-long friend took their own life.
Aside from the grief he suffered, he was also left with questions. “It was a difficult time for me to try to understand what I did wrong, what was wrong with the system, was there a point I might have changed things,” he recalled. “And that was the beginning of my journey to understand mental health and realise that we’ve missed the fitness element of mental health.”
Fryer’s experience came after receiving two cancer diagnoses in his life. The first at university and the second after starting Fika, but he realised the major difference between the two was his mental fitness. “The second one was by the worst, but I coped with it better because I had improved my mental fitness.
Benefiting every employee
The platform is for everyone. Fryer explains, “we’re targeting the 80% of people that don’t know they need it. We’re uneducated about our mental health, and the only way you fix it is with formalised training.” Fika was deliberately launched in the education sector, so they could demonstrate an evidence-based approach with a practical application.
And the practical aspect is important. With thousands of self-help and mental health books being joined by platforms like Headspace and Calm, the difficulty is that most people simply do not use them.
“There’s about 100 positive psychological techniques you can use to manage your wellbeing,” says Fryer. “The problem is not that they don’t exist, it’s that no-one uses them. We’ve created a short five-minute exercise framework that allows people to train and understand those skills.”
The success is down to the convenience, when everyone has access to those courses in their pockets, they can benefit from them. It’s a system that Fryer and Bennett hope will make mental fitness commonplace, well-regarded and understood as physical fitness.