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Dr. Raquel Martin Talks Race-Related Stress And Why Burnout Must Be Treated As A Systemic Issue

May is Mental Health Awareness Month; a time designated to raise awareness about mental health. When taking a step back to reflect on the current state of the world, things feel quite heavy. The United States is grappling with an unprecedented number of mass shootings, war has broken out in several parts of the world, and society is still reeling from the virus that changed the world as we know it. Rates of suicide, anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. More conversations must highlight how workplaces can support the health and wellbeing of employees. Dr. Raquel Martin is writer, researcher and licensed clinical psychologist with a popular TikTok page, where she provides advice and insight into mental health and wellbeing. Martin sat down to discuss how workplaces can best support their employees and why burnout must be treated as a systemic issue.

Janice Gassam Asare: Dr. Martin, could you share a little bit about yourself for the Forbes readers that are not familiar with you?

Raquel Martin: Definitely. So my name is Dr. Raquel Martin. I am a licensed clinical psychologist. I am a professor and a researcher. I focus primarily on cultural competence, race-related stress, and racial identity development. I have worked a lot with adolescents and their racial identity development as it deals with stressors at home like anxiety, depression, and just maneuvering this whole world. That's really difficult for Black children. I've dealt with grad students and how race-related stress has led to imposter syndrome for them as well as how to get over that and be comfortable in their skin so that they can be the high achieving people that they are. And also race-related stressors within the workplace and how different entities need to provide certain opportunities and spaces for Black workers…my expertise is more so with Black people. So talking to companies about dos and don'ts. Checking in with them to see what's going on and providing them with recommendations regarding opportunities and ways to support their employees.

Asare: I love that you specify the community that you work with because I think DEI and race-related work can be very broad and there can be an assumption that all racially marginalized groups have the same experiences.. I think there is importance in specificity and working specifically with Black employees, because there are very unique experiences that Black employees and Black people in general, living in whatever countries or areas they're living in, experience. As far as the racialized trauma that you're seeing [with] Black employees specifically, are you noticing any patterns amongst patients when they're sharing workplace experiences and how they navigate mental health and wellbeing?

Martin: I will say one of the shifts that I've noticed is that people are utilizing the services better. My patients will find me through EAP services. Before people are just like, I can't afford therapy and they didn't even know that most jobs provide at least some reimbursement for therapy. So that's one thing. I do find people using their PTO better when it comes to mental health. But I always say no amount of PTO can make you want to come back to a job that you loathe. There's more than just using your PTO; that helps. I think that more jobs are trying to make sure that they do presentations and are inclusive. But one of the things you mentioned about being more specific that they're missing is that people of the global majority, people of color, that is such a wide range. And I think in being inclusive, some people have a fear of specificity. They don't want to feel like they're excluding people. Me excluding other races is what makes me better at working with the race I work with. And I think a lot of people are missing them and they're doing a lot of one-time events. I think it's also helpful to provide these individuals with group therapy. The way that you're going to learn to unlearn things, or to be able to recognize issues or to be able to have more policies that are supporting certain individuals is to make it consistent.

Asare: A lot of people, despite the ability to work from home, are experiencing excessive amounts of burnout, particularly since the pandemic started. Working parents are experiencing a lot of overwhelm. We're hearing about the baby formula shortage here in the United States, which is bringing on a lot of stress. Oftentimes when we hear discussions about burnout, it's centered around what employees can do individually. It's maybe having a self-care day or going to see a therapist. If there is an overwhelming amount of projects and tasks for you to complete and you never have enough time to actually complete it, then doing those individual activities are not going to change things systemically. Are there specific things you think companies can do to mitigate burnout amongst their employees?

Martin: Yes. So many things. First of all, that's an amazing question because when I do my presentations at these companies, I always end on: Now, listen, I tell you all this stuff, but none of this can compete with a bad environment. And people are always floored because I'm like, self-care is not going to combat this sucky environment. So policies or certain things need to change. The employee is always right, because a happy employee will support your customer in a way that you never can. People forget that the reason why you have this company, the reason why you're able to be a CEO, a CFO, or have these billions is because of the workers and if we're not supporting the workers, then at the end of the day, you're not supporting your company. And people need to understand that supporting your work is just the thing that's going to help you continue to, honestly, be a fat cat.

[Bosses] need to be checking not just employees, but the people who are overseeing individuals, providing better mentorship within the workplace. And that mentor needs to look like them. They need to understand and educate themselves. Educate themselves on the stresses that Black people deal with every day, the concern with stereotype threat and feeling like they're going to be judged off of different aspects. The race-related stressors make them feel as though they represent every single Black person in the room.

Asare: So there was this article that was written by a professor named Dr. Cydney H. Dupree, where she talked about how remote work for Black employees is anti-racist because Black employees want to and will thrive in remote work environments. What are your thoughts around remote work?

Martin: I think that we need to provide individuals with a choice and go from there. I don't know if every Black person thrives from working from home. I miss my office deeply. I try to do work. And my son is walking in here with his draws off and I can't focus. One thing I noticed doing therapy with my patients when they were at home was the fact that my therapy office, where they got their tea and they were able to just talk to me, was a part of their routine that they really needed because their home was hectic and the pandemic took that from them. So their progress slowed down because they couldn't even get therapy the one hour where they were able to check out of their home life.

I think it's more so independence. One of the things that makes it difficult is that people want a one-time answer. They don't want to hear that you have to ask every single employee and that's going to be unique. And the biggest thing that you can provide to help with burnout is options. People should be able to choose if they do a one-day, two-day or bi-weekly. One of the things that I think also contributes to burnout is the fact that people feel like they're getting treated like children. Like they're not trusted at their jobs.

Asare: What is the best thing that employees can do to support their mental health? It's definitely an issue that should be focused on systemically in the workplace. But what is one individual thing that an employee can do to support their mental health and mental wellbeing?

Martin: One of the biggest things is I would say education and self-monitoring. I would say education and self-monitoring therapy go hand in hand, but I'm also well aware that therapy is a privilege and I don't think you need therapy to care for yourself. So when it comes to self-monitoring, a lot of times people will say, when it comes to their burnout, they went from zero to 100. There were many cues that let you know that you were getting to a place that you couldn't be, or that this employee rubbed you the wrong way or that the issue was stemming from the environment. It's not the fact that you're just exhausted all around. You're exhausted from work. So understanding what your cues are to let you know when you need a break, because even though breaks won't clear burnout, breaks will let you know when during that break, you need to look for a new job. Like I'm getting a pedicure and I'm on []. I am taking a break and I'm drinking tea and I'm being mindful, but I'm also looking for certification programs that can make me more competitive to leave my job. So being aware of what your body does when it's stressed. For me, I'm super irritable when things are going poorly. And honestly, for a lot of people, that's the truth too.

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