Jean-Christophe Leroy is 49 years old, he defines himself as an entrepreneur who has had the chance to make two big decisions in his life. The first one was to build his first company while he was still at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology based in Lausanne (EPFL), and the second was to marry his wife. Because he is 24 years younger than her she already had two boys of his age. The older one was kind of weird when he met him and finally got diagnosed with a mental disease. And this made, as well, a big part of Jean-Christophe’s life.
Jean-Christophe is also the founder of the association Positive Minders, which aims to remove all the bottlenecks preventing early support when one suffers from mental health problems. This NGO focuses on what an association can do on that matter : foster de-stigmatization, develop training resources, and spread the use of best practice.
What is the moment you realized you had mental health ?
Well, this is the first dramatic day of my life. On that day I made the decision to close my first company. I had 45 employees at that time, and you know what, when you announce to 45 people that tomorrow they will be jobless, it affects you. Not only because it was my company, but also because of the impact it had on all the others.
Strangely, I had a son in law suffering from schizophrenia, but I had not discovered yet that I had mental health myself. But on that day, I could not prevent myself from crying, I couldn’t manage my emotions and I discovered that I had my own failures, that I had to protect myself from internal and external matters. This is the day I discovered I’ve to care about my mental health.
What do you want to improve in terms of the population's mental health ?
In mental health, like in many other medical fields, the care is structured by specialties. So you've got the Center for Physical Finding, the center for depression, the Center for Autism, etc. These centers are usually centered around university research. They are very narrow, very aware of all the best practices and about new evolutions concerning mental health. But there is no spread of their know-how. As a result, 90% of the people who need mental health support have no ideas and no access to these best practices.
There was a lot of progress in mental health during the past 20 years, not concerning pharmaceuticals, but a lot of progress about processes, about the care, about the techniques to recover and all the abilities in peer support. But all that progress does not reach the population who's the most concerned about it.
“All that progress does not reach the population who's the most concerned about it.“
So I believe, like in other medical matters, that there is a very urgent need in improving the capabilities of addressing the concerns of everyone who deals with mental health issues. And when I say everyone, it's not only that we need to address the needs of the patients. We also need to address the needs of the parents, the friends, etc. Moreover, we can think about the needs of professionals having no solutions to propose while solutions exist on the market.
What is your proposed solution to solve this problem ?
In fact, I'm not trying to invent anything. We are willing to use techniques that are already existing in many other domains, but which are not applied in mental health.
We are in Switzerland, the best company in the coffee market here is probably Nespresso. I had the chance to see the first Nespresso machine 25 years ago when I was still a student. This first machine was made of very rustic boxes, it was big and noisy. It was impossible to sell that. The challenge that Nespresso gave us was to keep the same coffee quality but transform the machine so it could be sellable.
“In fact, I’m not trying to invent anything“
The model for disseminating techniques in mental health is very similar. When one develops a technique in a Competence Center, spreading it requires adapting it because of other environments where business models know-how, people and networks are different, etc. This is industrial adjustment : dissemination doesn’t require engineering a new method but adapting it to a different environment.
I believe that we need to use those techniques with business makers and pedagogical engineers to make them efficient in mental health. One of the key things in the process is to identify carefully the best methods to be spread. Sometimes the best method is not the most efficient or the most innovative, but the one which has the best potential impact on the life of people.
With PositiveMinders, in order to select the healthiest practices in mental health, we created a scientific committee with some of the most competent people coming from many different domains. This college analyzes the methods and their ability to spread. We are not focused on innovation, we’re focused on impact..
What are your plans for the future ?
Basically, PositiveMinders should be a leverage for plenty of organizations. We do not believe that we're going to change anything by ourselves. Therefore, what we bring to the market is our capability of communication, which is maybe wider thanks to specific skills but also thanks to partnerships with more than 250 partner organizations.
In the domain of teaching, it will not change anything if we teach ourselves because this is something that plenty of people do. But what we can do is provide them with resources.
So today our project is to build a platform of resources to leverage the capabilities of teaching that have plenty of actors.
This platform is going to provide resources and content, but also a network of people that can support that and a number of people with living experience, or researchers or whatever which can help in terms of dissemination.
“we have made partnerships with more than 250 partner organizations”
Today, we've got a scientific committee, so we can select the best practices, and we've got volunteers. Those volunteers can bring a lot of knowledge in how to disseminate this. But disseminating is like an enterprise. The big challenge will be to make a start-up out of each best practice we select to make sure that there is a real objective of spreading with an effect on the market.
One of the big challenges will be to be able to measure the benefits of early care. That’s what we are working on right now !
Is there an artistic work, or someone inspiring that had a positive impact on your mental health ?
I started my first startup when I was about 20. At 20 years old, being a student at EPFL, one of the things I was not strong at is self confidence. Somebody who brought me more confidence at that time was Bernard Vittoz. He was one of my professors and also the President of EPFL, a national school with a 1 billion euro budget..
I had to pitch my company to him once, in fact, there were many people in the room with him, but he was there. I started my pitch by saying that “I’m going to try to explain my project”. He raised up and said “JC, are you going to try or are you willing to succeed in explaining?”. and he added “I’m confident you will succeed : believe in it”. That guy did accompany me for several years, and every time he came back with confidence in our project, it brought me a lot.
The first time I was on a TV show for an interview, it was for daily news in Switzerland. At that time, I was very protective on talking about my age. Bernard also interviewed on the same TV show. I asked him not to share the secret.. He said “Yes, no problem at all”. However the first thing he said on the TV was my age. Instead of presenting it as a weakness, which I have the impression it was, he said “This is incredible ! He's only 21 …” He was really an inspiring mentor for me.
What is the best way to contact you ?
Interviewed by Thomas Cantaloup, on November 20, 2022
Photo credits : Thomas Cantaloup