9 min read

Mental Health in the Spotlight

Clare Dickens MBE is the University’s academic lead for mental health and wellbeing.

In recognition of her pioneering work, including the development of the award-winning Three Minutes to Save a Life programme, she received an MBE for services to education and improving suicide awareness. A registered nurse, Clare is also independent Chair for Wolverhampton’s Multi Stakeholder’s Suicide Prevention Forum.

With mental health in the spotlight like never before, we caught up with our alumna to share her wisdom…

Q: What do you feel the current climate is like with regards to awareness of mental health wellbeing?

It would appear that mental health awareness has become more prominent in recent years. However, I believe there is a need to take a step back every now and again and view such agendas and shifts with a degree of criticality. While I endorse a narrative that encourages people to talk, to seek help if they are struggling, and to break the stigma, I also believe we need to remain aware of some of the situational and relational barriers that exist for some people when they do.

Q: Do you have any insights you can share about your work?

My present role spans a spectrum of a whole-university approach to mental health and wellbeing, where I aim to infuse wellbeing with principles of inclusivity, belonging and mattering within our community.

As a higher education provider, we must consider both the academic and non-academic aspects of what we offer, to consider each individual student’s varying needs and strengths. I passionately believe that each student is incredibly buoyant in their own right, and they have achieved so much to get to where they are today.

However, when any of us navigate a new challenge or environment, we can find barriers and thresholds that might not flex. My role is to explore some of our cultural and systematic barriers and consider them at their source. I am in a privileged position that I have been both a mental health practitioner in a HE context, as well as an academic, and am currently a doctorate student: allowing me to view such priorities through these varying lenses, and my own subjectivity can often serve as a resource. My research interests span a spectrum of citizen science, co-production, placement-based learning, suicide prevention and suicide exposure. Within all of these interests, I aim to consider power within the research process as well as the possible injustices.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for employers on how to provide support for mental health in the workplace?

My advice to employers would really be akin to remember that whilst our work environment should offer and accommodate an environment in which all employees should be able to flourish and grow, we should also consider that when people are struggling, we need to view them through a needs-and strengths-based lens. It is also an easy temptation to focus on the needs of the few, and those who we may know are struggling.

It is prudent to view the mental health and wellbeing needs of our employees through a variety of lenses, and to ensure we do not close off the inroads for seeking support through someone’s assumed coping based on their performance.

Q: What options do employees have if their employer cannot provide assistance?
Where would you recommend people access support?

It might be beneficial to consider some potential solutions: perhaps booking a day off either side of the weekend, so that we can take a break. We might agree with ourselves that we need to stop working beyond 6pm because we feel drained. We may be navigating a problem that we cannot solve with our own thinking or resources, and it’s here where we might opt to discuss this with someone we trust, which may be a friend, a colleague, or our manager.

Accessing support can be complex, but it’s my belief that no one else will ever judge us as harshly as we do ourselves. Therefore, I always bear this in mind if I have to reach out to someone, and I reassure myself that human beings can be incredible when we get our heads together and agree to help each other.

I recommend the following online links as a starting point:

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is struggling with their mental health?

Stop, take a deep breath. Recognise the synergy between your physical and mental health. When we feel overwhelmed or are experiencing emotional pain that feels intolerable, it is often as a result of our head and heart’s attempt to keep up and process everything that life is throwing at us. It is important to remember that there will never be another “us” again. We can never be repeated. Therefore, in trying to figure out how to resurface from our emotional pain or indeed numbness, we might find comfort in the fact that we do have a right to be here, we have a story and we have more chapters of that story to write.

There are of course options to contact employee assistance programmes, your GP, and other services. To navigate these and to access them, it might be easier to not do this alone.

It might also be worth gaining some confidence in how to co create a safety and support plan with someone else, so that they can call upon it 24-hours-a-day, and which comprises multiple sources of support that will not let them down. You can access free online training and a safety plan at: stayingsafe.net/training-materials