Working at Mental Health with Dame Carol Black
23 October 2019
We were delighted to welcome Professor Dame Carol Black to Bristol for our 6th annual Elizabeth Blackwell Public Lecture on 21 October 2019. Dame Carol is expert government advisor on health and work, and an inspirational leader. She talked about her influential campaigns on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, to a packed audience at the Wills Memorial Building.
There is a high incidence of mental health issues in the UK workforce, across a broad range of dimensions and the determinants of health are largely social. Understanding this was Dame Carol’s ‘lightbulb moment’.
Her passion, she explained, is enabling individuals to have good health and wellbeing so that they find quality in life and purposeful activity. Such activity, she believes, is often work – paid or unpaid. Major barriers to this are poor mental health and wellbeing.
The essential enablers of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, she explained, are: leadership, Board engagement and manager capability.
"Culture is key. There is a very strong relationship between line manager support and mental wellbeing.”
Dame Carol shared insightful statistics showing how people rarely use mental health workplace interventions (only 3%), but when they do, they often feel that they benefit from them (71%).
She gave suggestions on what employers can do about the mental health of their workforce:
- Know your own staff, data and demographics – organisations vary
- Create the right organisational enablers
- Know the dimensions/extent of your challenges, and the most exposed groups
- Ask staff what they think will work best
- Use evidence-based or best practice interventions
- Work hard on participation
- Collect data and evaluate
Dame Carol spoke about ‘the continuum’, emphasising that this topic needs a joined-up approach. Although her talk was mainly about mental health in the workplace, she explained that factors that affect workers (including stress, poor sleep, financial concerns, harassment and bullying) are also factors to be found in Higher Education, and some of them in schools.
Her closing remarks were about resilience, explaining that we must work with the continuum, and it helps to be able to ‘bounce’. “Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.”
Dame Carol is immediate past Principal of Newnham College Cambridge and provides expert advice to the Department of Health and Public Health England. She chairs the board of Think Ahead, the Government’s fast-stream training programme for Mental Health Social Workers.
She has compiled three independent reviews for the UK Government: of the health of the working-age population; of sickness absence in Britain; and more recently of employment outcomes of addiction to drugs or alcohol, or obesity.