Mental health is not a topic historically associated with Monaco. Gavin Sharpe of Riviera Wellbeing seems determined to change that. His latest initiative, The Good Life, is an all-day event at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel on October 15th which he hopes will move the dial.
“Covid was a game changer for all of us,” says Gavin. “Overnight, mental health went from being a taboo subject to a daily conversation. Rich or poor, we were all faced with similar existential questions about our careers, relationships and lives.”
As a psychotherapist and psychosexual therapist, Gavin has teamed up with an international relationship and wellbeing coach Dufflyn Lammers, originally from California, now based in France. The pair are collaborating with Riviera Radio and the aim is to broadcast part of the day live on air to reach as large an audience as possible.
Does he think Monaco is ready to talk about mental health? “Actually, I find mental health a stigmatised, less helpful phrase these days. I am not really a fan of happiness either as a benchmark tool for how to measure our lives. Happiness is fleeting and mostly circumstantial. I cannot feel happy all the time. I need to choose how to meet my pain.”
Gavin, who co-hosts “Wellbeing Window” with Sarah Lycett on Riviera Radio the first Wednesday of every month, favours the term “wellbeing” which is something we can actively do on a daily basis. He cites the quality of our relationships, meaningful careers, financial health, good body health, as well as connection to a higher purpose, as being some of the crucial components that need to be aligned for us to be “well”.
The Monaco resident believes two recent events have changed us forever. Covid and the war in Ukraine. “We cannot unsee what we have seen. We are at an existential crossroads, individually and collectively.” This is why it is the right time to launch The Good Life for which he is donating ticket sales to Child CARE Monaco.
“We are re-defining wellness. People who were stressed and/or obese were dying in front of us during the pandemic, not to mention those we lost with no pre-existing conditions. Wellness is no longer just a yoga class once a week but a question of survival and a desire to prepare ourselves for the future.”
He adds, “Typically, we focus on one or two wellbeing components. There is no point me having the best job in the world but being lonely and obese. That isn’t wellness.”
Gavin fears we have become “dopamine zombies”, seeking out instant pleasure at the expense of avoiding pain and that society’s over-consumption is unstainable, if we want to be well. This is what he believes leads to addiction.
“I think the war in Ukraine was also a tipping point for many. It seemed to come from nowhere and right off the back of the pandemic. More people probably came to therapy in the weeks after Putin invaded Ukraine than during the first half of the pandemic.”
As for The Good Life, Gavin says he was amazed at the enthusiasm from their corporate sponsors: Savills, Blevins Franks, Metabolic Balance and Clinic Les Alpes. “Not one company asked ‘What’s in it for me?’All they have asked is ‘What can we do to help?’”
Perhaps this explains why Gavin feels the time is right to discuss mental health, I mean wellbeing! As to whether Monaco is ready, Gavin remains optimistic:
“Monaco has led the way in so many areas, like with the health of the planet’s environment. I am thinking now about your recent coverage of Kate Powers who I had the privilege of getting to know briefly. Look at her legacy in and around the community. Yes, I think we are approaching readiness. As they say, if not now, then when? Carl Jung stated ‘Life is a short pause between two great mysteries’. In other words, we don’t have long so let’s get started!”
The Good Life takes place Saturday, October 15th, from 10 am to 4 pm, at Monte Carlo Bay. Tickets (€60 day pass includes lunch) can be purchased online or by calling +33 (0)6 40 61 99 82.
“I felt trapped in my corporate success,” says Gavin Sharpe. “However corporate life had seduced me, it controlled me rather than the other way around.”
His recruitment company, SSQ, was independently ranked by The Sunday Times as one of the best companies to work for and was placed as the most profitable in its sector. “I was losing my identity. Something was missing and that something was me,” he states.
Having grown up in a small village in Hertfordshire and studied in London, once Gavin sold his company he yearned for a different lifestyle and kinder climate. “My parents had lived in Monaco and it felt familiar. It was one of those defining moments and the start of an adventure that began some six years ago and which feels like it is just unfolding,” he describes about relocating to one of the safest countries in the world.
Gavin jumped off the corporate bus and into a career that “allowed me to be authentic and congruent. I had enjoyed my own therapy and developed a passion for the field of psychotherapy.”
As a counsellor, coach and therapist, he is now on his true life path. “The calling had always been there. When I was ready to listen, it spoke to me. I wish it was less of a cliché but it is true,” he admits.
Comparing the amount of time and money we spend on our physical wellbeing (yoga, Pilates, breathing, healthy eating) versus our mental wellbeing, Gavin observes, “I bet we are more comfortable telling the boss that we are leaving the office early for a Pilates class than for a therapy appointment. Men are certainly more likely to say they have a personal trainer to lose weight rather than a therapist to help with their erectile dysfunction!”
He believes the taboo arises from a lack of awareness and education about mental illness. “Sadly, some people do not seek out treatment due to the self-perceived stigma. Perhaps one good thing to emerge from the Covid pandemic is that there seems to be a willingness to talk about the cost on our mental health. Who knew that when you lock up humankind and hide the key, it impacts our emotional wellbeing?”
Gavin wants to make mental health more accessible and is excited by a new partnership with Rivera Radio. “Wellbeing Window” will be an hour on the first Wednesday of each month at 9 am CET addressing a topic on mental health and inviting listeners to write in with their questions.
“It was brave of Rob Harrison and Sarah Lycett to have me on the Full English Breakfast Show back in 2019. We broke new ground. I think there was a fear that people would be drowning in their cornflakes, and as a result, listeners would tune out. Instead, we found them tuning in. When I appeared last on New Year’s Eve, I ended up staying for longer than scheduled as the number of listeners writing in rocketed. Rob and Sarah have an amazing talent in being able to discuss deep and meaningful subjects that touch us all and seconds later they have us roaring with laughter over something meaningless and mundane.”
For Gavin, there is another dimension to wellbeing that has been forgotten. In his upcoming book on how we can follow our true life path rather than the one we find ourselves on, he has dedicated a chapter to Financial Wellbeing. “We all have money scripts, a set of beliefs or values about money. Do I deserve money? Is money good or bad? What does money represent to me?” he asks. “When a couple argues about money, it is never about the money per se. It is about what the money represents. I have studied financial disorders and run money intensives with individuals and couples to help them explore these deep-rooted issues.”
On Covid Gavin’s appointment calendar was already pretty busy before a pandemic forced us to face unprecedented issues as couples. “You could have been the most solid couple in the world but if you are in lockdown in a small apartment with three children and home schooling, your relationship will likely have felt the strain. Couples who were struggling before the pandemic have unsurprisingly felt the cracks widen.”
He adds, “I think it is unhealthy for couples to be living and working together with this level of intensity. Relationships need to breathe and need spontaneity and creativity to fuel ongoing desire. The pandemic has the potential to kill desire – unless you are single in which case, you might not know what to do with your desire! There is usually hope for struggling couples. The key is to seek help before contempt sets in.”
For Gavin, the popular media is full of titillating stories informing us that the divorce rate will spiral while others indicate the opposite. “The truth is probably somewhere in between. What we do know from studies of past pandemics, such as SARS and Ebola, is that psychological reactions such as panic, depression, loneliness, anxiety, stress, grief, anxiety and PTSD are common. This obviously has entered into our relationships during the Covid pandemic.”
On Expats A study released this year showed that US expats were two and a half times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than their US-based counterparts. “I am sure it is the same for expats based in Monaco and the South of France,” Gavin insists.
“Expats sometimes tell me they feel trapped and long for their roots. Many have moved around in childhood and coming to the Riviera is just one more notch in their portable bedpost. When we move around, we experience loss. We leave behind family, friendships, rituals and routines. I think the wellbeing litmus test for expats is the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve those losses or do we just move on?”
For Gavin, expats can also suffer from “I should” syndrome. I should be happy. Look where I live. I have no right to be miserable. (He once replied, “If I was married to your husband, I’d be miserable, too.”) “The point is that we have to allow ourselves to experience our emotions wherever we live. Living by the sea is not a passport to happiness. We still have to work at it.”
In this part of the world, he sees men and women facing different challenges. “There is a power dynamic which troubles me. Many women move to join their breadwinner husbands. The men carry on largely as before while the women often find themselves dependent and isolated. That sometimes leaves the door open to control and abuse. Even without this dynamic, I think Monaco can be an intimidating place for women to integrate.”
He advises that if you are going to live in or around Monaco, it is helpful to know your relationship with money. “This is not the place to compete. There will always be someone out there with more. More money. More cars. More wives. I’ve worked with many successful business people who are trying to heal a childhood wound with the purchase of a larger yacht. It’s not going to happen. Heal the wound first and then think about the yacht.”
On Group Therapy Gavin works with individuals and couples who are looking to make profound changes in their relationships and lives. “As a therapist, I wear many hats. Alongside my Masters in Integrative Psychotherapy, I am also trained in addiction, trauma and relationship and sex therapy. My services and workshops reflect this.”
He currently runs three weekly online groups – one exclusively for men, one for women and, as he is the only certified sex addiction therapist in the Riviera, the third is for male sex and love addicts.
He also holds intensive weekends throughout the year for people coming to terms with addiction. “One of my most popular workshops is my two-day couple’s wellbeing intensive. I love this workshop. It’s not so much about resolving problems – although it can be – but more about rediscovering love and building deeper intimacy and connection. We are all craving connection, pandemic or not.”
Connection is also part of what makes a good therapist. “I could have a hundred initials after my name but if we don’t have chemistry and click, I am likely to be the wrong therapist for you. Only work with me if you connect with me. That’s my mantra. The relationship is key.”
A good therapist will most likely have trained at a reputable educational establishment, ideally up to or beyond a Masters level. Therapy is an unregulated profession in the UK, so Gavin choose to be a member of several professional associations to ensure he is held accountable to the highest standards.
He underlines that a client also needs to feel that therapy offers a safe and confidential space, offline or online. “And comfortable chairs help!”
Attending a group is usually less expensive than attending one-to-one therapy which can be why some people chose only group sessions. “Let me say at the outset, I am passionate about groups. There is a lot of research which has tested the efficacy of groups. They can be transformational. Sometimes what we seek is an acknowledgment from others who have walked in our shoes and groups provide this collective empathy. Participants are able to see their pain in others and vice versa,” he emphasises.
“I don’t see group therapy as better but more as a therapy tool in the whole wellbeing toolkit. Many people find it helpful to participate in both group therapy and individual psychotherapy.”
Being a therapist on the French Riviera is unique. “I can go out for dinner and see three or four clients. My clients know that I will ignore them and respect their privacy. Sometimes we laugh about it in session.”
ON GAVIN Like many of us, Gavin learned to mask his inward lack of confidence. “Growing up, we all experience attachment wounds – for example abuse, neglect, betrayal, loss or abandonment – and those wounds impact how loveable and worthy we believe ourselves to be. For a long time, I didn’t feel worthy and for a while, I disguised my wounds even from myself. I became what I thought others expected of me. It led to my success in the corporate world that I mentioned earlier but left a sense of emptiness inside,” he relates.
His upcoming show on Riviera Radio on March 3rd will address that inner critic and voice inside our head that often undermines our accomplishments leaving us feeling guilt and/or shame.
“I’ve learned to silence my inner critic. Of course, it crops up every now and then but like my clients, I, too, am always evolving,” says Gavin Sharpe.
Remember to post your Pink Ribbon Monaco photos holding a sign with a message of support this Sunday, February 14. #seinvalentin #Pinkribbonmonaco