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Secret sauce: what goes into Calm’s worthy and wonderful creative work?

Calm’s in-house designer Sam Quinton

Campaigning mental health charity Calm has never been more necessary than during the months of lockdown in the UK. In-house designer Sam Quinton, one of this year’s Future 50, explains how the organization has adapted – and how a side hustle helped him through this strange period.

Since its inception, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm) has always needed to stand out and be noticed. Founded as an NHS pilot to provide a helpline specifically for men (who historically didn’t call helplines), our suicide prevention organization intentionally and organically behaves in a very different way to how you might expect.

Our powerful campaigns and relentlessly passionate supporters have helped kick-start more conversations about suicide and mental health with more people in more places – from parliament to the pub. As a loud voice in the conversation, Calm is being noticed more than ever, and in light of everything that has happened in the last year or so, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t lived miserably at some point.

Lockdown adaptation

Lockdown saw a massive 37% rise in the number of people speaking to our helpline, and all of our projects since have been focused on countering the uncertainty, isolation, grief and general shit-ness that we’ve all experienced to different degrees with hope, optimism and support.

As Calm’s first ever in-house designer, I’ve had varied and bizarre projects to work on since day one – and they’ve always been about more than just how something looks. Understanding the brand, its messaging and its core characteristics has always been important. But as time’s gone on, the teams have grown, projects have expanded and it’s been a job in itself to protect it and keep it focused.

Promoting the helpline continues to be a massive part of what we do, but we’ve also done a lot of fun things over the last 18 months to offer some relief from it all. We put on the Calm Lock In – a seven-hour festival of music and entertainment – on Instagram Live, hilarious mid-afternoon comedy sets on Twitter, and gathered tons of practical tips and advice.

The pandemic has shown that tough times can appear from absolutely nowhere, so it’s become apparent to more people to know where you can turn to in these situations. It could be a playlist of feel-good bangers, going for a run, chatting to a mate, ringing a helpline – loads can be done against living miserably.

Ambition for action

Awareness and understanding around suicide and mental health has increased in recent years, and so has the appetite for action. They are very much societal issues, and there is a part we can all play in looking out for ourselves and each other. I see Calm’s ambition as being an organization that provides the best practical tools to enable anyone and everyone to make a difference in their world – tools that help unite against suicide.

Social media is so often pinned as a contributing factor in our deteriorating mental health, and it’s hard to know sometimes how we can optimize the power of social media to improve wellbeing. Hiding likes is a small start, but there’s so much more that needs to be done to put users’ wellbeing first. It’s worth watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix – it looks under the bonnet of social media apps, exposing their very murky engines, which are very much designed to keep us as addicted as possible.

I have a 15-year-old sister, and I definitely worry about the effect that social media is having on her and her generation’s mental health. She’s learning a lot – and becoming very passionate – about social, political and environmental issues, mainly through social media, which is great. But I want to know that everything is being done to limit the pressure that she might feel to think, act or look a certain way.

Side hustles

One thing I would strongly advocate for is pursuing your own passions and hobbies wherever possible. Something that has helped me enormously in the last year is the side-project I have in Condiment Club.

I’ve always loved condiments – they’re definitely one of life’s simple, lazy pleasures. They’re bottles of concentrated flavor that make any meal better. Even crap ones! I had the idea for Condiment Club one day toward the end of last year, when it was cold, dark and we were in and out of lockdowns. Next thing I knew, I’d registered the business with Companies House, bought the domain name and was ordering sample condiments to try. It’s been really fun.

At a time when it felt like our lives were pretty much taken out of our control, I think I really craved the sense of having complete jurisdiction over something. It made me feel so much better to have something to aim for, and a to-do list of small, easy tasks (like ‘order cardboard boxes’) to churn through. It all made me feel productive and in control.

I’ve worked on quite a few silly side projects over the years, normally as a way of exploring a passion or balancing out a boring day job. I normally have a lot of fun, make myself laugh, but lose energy and enthusiasm after a little while and they fizzle out. So with this one, I knew it was only going to work if I just committed to the idea and didn’t overthink it. Like a good condiment, I love having this on the side now, as I know that no matter how stressful other things in life might get, I can always just plough myself into a bit of silly sauce stuff for a bit and it will make me feel happy.

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