In this episode, we discuss the topic of Mental Wellness in Corporate America and it’s particular impact within black and brown professionals. Dr. Tobi Odunsi and PhD Candidate, Nonye Nwosu-Kanu.
Host: Zach | Latricia
Dr. Tobi Odunsi:
Referenced research during the show:
Mental Wellness Resources:
Mental Wellness Podcasts:
Latricia: At the time of this recording, we received recent news that handbag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain both committed apparent suicide. These tragic deaths have increased awareness and open conversations about the risk associated with mental health illnesses. The CDC says suicide rates have gone up in almost every state since 1999. Suicide is one of the top causes of death in the United States, and a majority of those who died by suicide didn’t have a mental health condition but suffered from things like relationships, financial stress, physical and mental health problems, as well as substance abuse. If we dig a little further into the details and look at people of color, we find that mental health illnesses among people of color are similar with those in the general population. However, disparities exist in regard to mental health care services that contribute to people of color not receiving proper support or treatment in order to feel better. Researchers found that black and Hispanic young people are less able to get mental health services than white children and young adults. This happens despite the fact that rates of mental health illnesses are generally consistent across ethnicity, according to a report from Kaiser Health. 62% of non-Hispanic black individuals will experience a major depressive episode, but only a small percentage will actually seek mental health care. Suicide rates among Native-American women have nearly doubled within the last decade. First and second-generation Hispanics are significantly more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than other immigrants. Additionally, Latino adolescents who experience discrimination related to stress are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and issues with sleep, according to research conducted by faculty members at New York University. Black and Latinos are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, even though they show symptoms at the same rate as white people. Undiagnosed ADHD on the other hand, particularly its high association with risky behavior, drug use, and depression, can even be deadly. All of these data points about mental health disparities experienced by people of color are only compounded by the reality that the workplace is also a source of stress for a majority of Americans according to multiple studies, such as the American Institute of Stress. So if people of color are generally less likely to have access to quality mental health care services and are also in environments where the average person is often stressed, what can be done to better support mental wellness? My name is Latricia, and this is Living Corporate.
Zach: So today we’re talking about mental wellness in the workplace and what it looks like for people of color to pursue and maintain mental wellness.
Latricia: This is such an important topic. A common theme that I found while doing some of the research on this topic is that we start to see racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to access to mental health as early as adolescence, and these disparities often become exacerbated over time, so it’s no surprise when people of color transition into adulthood and there are significant disparities in the severity of their mental health condition that impact their experiences in the workplace.
Zach: It’s interesting that you bring up adolescence. I had never really thought about the impact of untreated conditions people are usually diagnosed with during childhood, such as autism and ADHD.
Latricia: Right. When we do actually talk about mental health, which isn’t often enough, we primarily focus on psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and we often leave out neurodevelopmental conditions such as ASD, which stands for autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD.
Zach: I think it’s important for us to discuss a broad spectrum of mental health conditions so that we can raise awareness and understanding about the diversity of mental health conditions and ways we can be more inclusive when it comes to making sure everyone has access to the care that they need to manage their mental well-being, you know?
Latricia: I totally agree, and on the topic of access, as we were doing some of the research and planning for the show I thought about my own engagement with mental health resources, and I realized that I haven’t really been as engaged in this space as I could have been. I mean, I’m working in Corporate America. I have access to quality care, but when I do go through those bouts of depression or anxiety, I kind of just work through it and assume, you know, “This is just gonna go away.” I’ve never thought, “Maybe this is the time for me to seek a mental health provider and find out, you know, are there other ways for me to cope besides working it off or, you know, just putting it off?” And so just going through some of the statistics, I’m seeing that this is actually very common amongst people of color. I don’t know if you remember this viral tweet that went out. An employee actually reached out to their CEO and said, “I need to take a day off of work for my mental health,” and the CEO responded applauding her for taking a day off for mental health. And I’ve never really thought about that before. Like, taking off work for mental health. I’ll take off work if I’m really, really sick. Like, throwing up or something. TMI. [laughs] But I don’t take it off just to, like, settle myself mentally.
Zach: Yeah. I remember when that went viral, and I can tell you I’ve never even thought to do that. Never with that type of intention, you know? And it’s just interesting to me because I’ve definitely been very stressed out at work, but my default is just to push through it. Like, I’m stressed, but that’s work. You know, I’ll grind. And, you know, we’re consultants, so it’s not out of the ordinary for us to work 65+-hour weeks, including weekends. Whatever. There’s a certain pride to it though, to be honest. Like, to say, “Yeah, I’m working.” “Oh, yeah, no. I’m working.” “I’m working.” “I’m working,” and it’s almost like–I don’t know. Out of nowhere, you start just feeling down or really exhausted mentally. I’m just more prone to be frustrated or annoyed at stuff that doesn’t matter during these times. It’s almost like I’m borrowing against credit, but that credit is my personal wellness, because all those extra hours, awkward exchanges, crazy deadlines, tone-deaf comments from my boss, they all just come rushing back.
Latricia: Hm. That’s an interesting analogy. So when you say credit, basically you’re saying your account’s in the negative once you’re trying to work through some of the mental conditions that you’re dealing with.
Zach: Right. And my point is I definitely understand that mental health matters and mental wellness matters. Of course we have the common points around how mental care in the black and brown communities are ostracized and how we’re told to pray it away and stuff like that.
Latricia: Yeah, that’s also the case in the Nigerian community. Some of y’all may not know I’m Nigerian-American, and having conversations about mental health and depression, it’s very taboo. If you’re dealing with some of those things, then you’re crazy or you’re possessed or it’s some type of juju, as we say, and there’s a lot of stigma when it comes to going to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. And so it’s just something–growing up, I wasn’t exposed to this idea of seeking access to mental health care.
Zach: Yeah. And, you know, it’s interesting because on the promo trailer for Living Corporate we talked about the fact that we won’t always have all the answers, right? And this is a situation where we definitely don’t have, you know, any answers really, you know?
Latricia: Yeah, I totally agree. We really don’t, and it would be great if we could bring a guest who is a mental health expert, like a person of color who has graduated from medical school and is currently in a residency program at a top five program for psychiatry in the nation. Or perhaps we have a little bonus this episode and bring an additional guest, someone who is a Ph.D candidate in developmental neuropsychology whose research focuses on autism spectrum disorder and its impact on people of color?
Zach: Oh, you mean like our two guests, Dr. Tobi Odunsi and Ph.D candidate Nonye Nwosu?
Zach and Latricia: Whaaaat?
Zach: [imitates air horns] Come on, Sound Man. Drop ’em, and give me some extras ’cause we got an extra guest on the show. Come on.
[Sound Man obliges]
Latricia: All right. So next we’re going to go into our interviews with our guests, Dr. Tobi Odunsi and Ph.D candidate Nonye Nwosu. Hey, y’all. This is Latricia, and today we’re talking about a really important topic, which is mental health in the workplace. We’re really excited to have two guests on the show today. We have Dr. Tobi Odunsi, who is a resident physician in psychiatry, and we also have Ph.D candidate Nonye Nwosu, who studies neurodevelopmental and cognitive psychology in children. So we’re really excited to have a conversation about mental health and self-care and how you can make sure that you’re managing issues such as depression and anxiety and stress, but we also want to expand the conversation a little bit more and talk about this concept of neurodiversity, and so we’re just gonna go ahead and jump right in. Tobi, it’s so nice to have you on the show. She’s gonna kick us off, and she’s gonna talk to us a little bit more about psychiatry. So Tobi, could you go ahead and introduce yourself?
Tobi: Yeah. Thanks, Latricia. Like Latricia said, my name is Tobi Odunsi. I’m really excited for what you guys are doing on this show. I’m so excited to talk about mental health today with you guys. I am a second-year psychiatry resident, and I study psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine that focuses on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, things that range from anxiety and depression all the way to autism, ADHD, and PTSD. So I’m really excited.
Latricia: Cool, cool. So, as you know, this conversation today is about mental wellness in Corporate America, and really within the context of underrepresented groups. Also, we’re expanding it again–like I said, different neurological presentations and developmental presentations and kind of how mental health is intersection across all of those identities, and earlier in the show we shared some statistics around some of those disparities that we talked about, specifically some racial disparities that we see in mental health and mental health practices. So let me ask you this. You know, being an ethnic minority, what inspired you to go into mental health? Were there some disparities that kind of sparked your interest and you wanted to study?
Tobi: This is a very, very good question. I get this a lot actually. So my interest in psychiatry actually started before I went into medical school. It’s three–I’m gonna go with it’s three different things that got me interested in psychiatry. I noticed that I am really, really interested in why human beings behave the way that they do, so that interest was there. The second thing was that I have a brother who is on the autism spectrum, and I was just interested in seeing what–you know, how do these mental health workers work with that? And third thing was I noticed that there was an under-representation of black or African–’cause I’m Nigerian–psychiatrists in the field, and I wanted to be able to be a part of that, and I also felt like if I was going to be in medicine I would make the most difference by being in psychiatry. So just a short, brief version of why I decided to go into psychiatry. So all of those things together were the reason. My brother, just general interest, and where I could–I felt like I could make the most difference in medicine.
Latricia: Definitely, and–you know, some of those statistics that we shared earlier in the show, they’re–it’s really frustrating, and it’s hard to really grasp because we see a lot of–we see a high prevalence of mental health issues in black and brown communities specifically, but we’re not seeing a lot of people going and getting help and counseling and therapy. So can you talk a little bit about the stigma that’s associated with mental health in black and brown communities?
Tobi: Yeah. And a lot of this is gonna be more, like, personal opinion and maybe some research to it, but I believe a lot of black and brown communities, the way we are raised or the way our culture is we believe in, I want to say, saving face sometimes, and also, you know, very religious backgrounds, and so there is that stigma to mental health issues. I remember, you know, a couple years ago actually, one of my family members said, “Nigerians are not depressed,” and, you know, I think that is a huge myth. Actually, there are statistics that show that, you know, blacks or African-Americans, about 20% of them are likely to have more serious mental health issues because they don’t get help until they’re, like, critically ill, and I think a lot of that is because of the stigma behind it. A lot of people think you can pray things away and, you know, mental health stuff isn’t real. “This is not something that affects us. We don’t talk to other people about our issues. We just pray to God,” and so I’m unclear exactly where this stems from, but I think it’s just the way our culture is, and we’re very religious, and it’s just kind of things go with us.
Latricia: Yeah, I totally agree. I can relate to that as well, being Nigerian, and it’s just not something that people are very comfortable talking about. Depression–again, you can just pray these things away, but one of my questions is, you know, we understand kind of what some of those core values are in some of those communities. What is the mental health community doing to make sure that they’re able to reach those groups? So if their values are prayer, or if there’s issues with, you know, just being comfortable and being open, like, what is the mental health community doing now to try to reach out and address the stigma?
Tobi: Hm, let me think about this one for a little bit. Psychiatrists get together and have meetings. They’re putting together different documents or data, you know, about underrepresented minorities in the country, and, you know, the mental health disparities in those countries, and kind of–in those groups I mean, and putting out data to inform people. And I think this could vary depending on the psychiatrist, but educating yourself a lot about the community, putting yourself out there educating people, because I think the problem and the thing with stigma is people are not educated enough. And so people holding, you know, different–what do you call those things? Not stereotypes. What do you call those things? Like, [inaudible]? Yeah, a health fair. You know, going to churches, ’cause there’s a guy in my residency program who goes to a church and talks to people in the church about mental health situations because a lot of black people are in the church. So going to the church, talking about depression, PTSD, trauma, racial-based trauma. Going to the communities where, you know, minorities gather is a way to kind of reach out to them and let them know that, you know, you have this struggle, this is normal, and there’s ways for you to get these things treated.
Latricia: For myself personally, I have a master’s degree in public health. I consider myself to be pretty well-educated, went to really good schools, but I’m still even a little I guess unfamiliar with the mental health community, and based on conversations that I’ve had with people, one of the common I guess issues that a lot of minorities face when they get into Corporate America is this idea that you’re the only one so you need to make sure you go above and beyond to prove that you deserve to be there. And it causes a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress, and you’ll see a lot of minorities tend to burn out early because they don’t know how to deal with that stress. And these are communities that are typically more highly-educated. So my question for you is can you address this idea that you have to overwork? And more so, could you focus on kind of like the impact that can have on your body, on your health, on your mental wellness? ‘Cause I don’t think we really, truly understand that this can really cause psychological, physiological damage to your health, but we’re so focused on overworking, proving ourselves. So could you speak a little bit on maybe what you’ve seen with clients or just maybe what could be the physiological impact of that?
Tobi: Good question. So I’d like to say–and I kind of agree, you know, being a minority in a workplace, you often feel like you have to work twice as hard to get what your other counterparts get in the workplace, and that can be very, very stressful on your body. A lot of times we say, you know, the things that are important are you getting good sleep, exercise and eating well, and if these things aren’t in tune you start to get some stress on your body because, you know, you have a cortisol dump or a cortisol overload and you’re stressed out.
Latricia: You’re right. You do need the support from your family, your friends, your network, and your employers in a sense. So it’s important to know about your diagnosis. It’s important to understand, you know, what this means for you moving forward and how you’re going to continue to live a normal life at work and just in your personal life. And so I guess that leads me to my last question, which is really just about maintenance long-term. So some of these diagnoses can be long-term from my understanding. Like, you could be diagnosed with bipolar, and it’s probably something that you’re gonna have to deal with for the rest of your life. So could you talk a little bit more about just that long-term maintenance and establishing, you know, a state where you are mentally healthy? Or maybe somebody may call mental health happiness. Just talking about how you just maintain.
Tobi: Yeah. That’s a very, very good question, and a lot of times when I’m speaking with patients or just people in general I often like to compare mental health issues with diabetes. They’re both chronic illnesses, and a lot of times not only is a patient dealing with that, their family members are dealing with that. And so in order to be successful, you need to continue to follow up with your mental health providers. You need to keep taking your medications. You need to engage in activities that make you happy or provide some type of benefit for you mentally, like exercising or meditation or some type of hobby. I always tell people, just because, you know, you checked your sugars today, when you have diabetes, and they’re great, that doesn’t mean you’re gonna stop taking your insulin. The same thing applies with mental health issues. Just because you’re having a good day or you had several amount of weeks where you’re doing well, that doesn’t mean you’re gonna stop going to see your mental health provider or stop taking your medicine or stop engaging in all of those activities that you’ve been doing to make sure you keep a normal, healthy life, you know? You need to keep doing those things every day so that you’re able to continue to be functional in society. Stress with the body, you know, can increase your cortisol level, which is a stress hormone. You know, either waking or not sleeping well and overall just not feeling good at all, and so what I try to talk to patients about or work with patients on is ways to cope with that stress. So there’s different things that you can do without necessarily getting into medication. Exercise. I know a lot of people are like, “What? Exercise?” There’s been studies that actually show that exercise works just as well as SSRIs, which are the first line for a lot of depressive and anxiety disorders. So exercising can make a huge difference in how you’re feeling or dealing with stress. Also sleep, which a lot of times when you’re under stress you’re not sleeping so well, but being able to get a good amount of sleep can help with whatever stress issues you have. Now, let’s say you’re not the exercise type or you just have poor sleeping habits. What can you do? Well, meditation. One app that I use is called Insight Timer, and I recommend this to a lot of people because it has different kinds of meditations that you can use, and just being able to take a 5-minute break when you’re at work when you feel like everything is overwhelming, everyone is coming to you making you do all of these things, just go to the app, put in, you know, “work break,” and it has a little bit of a meditation. 5 to 10 minutes. It can kind of calm your hormones down, get your stress levels a little bit down, and you can get back into the workplace and do what you gotta do.
Latricia: Yeah, those are all really important things. Making sure you’re getting your exercise, you’re getting your sleep, you’re taking those mini-breaks in order to prevent, you know, exacerbating the issue like you said. Cortisol levels, all this science stuff, but it can really lead to a more serious condition if you’re not taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to just overwork and overstress. So my next question for you is when do you know that you may need to see a mental health provider?
Tobi: Good question. I get this question a lot from a lot of people. And so mental health–I’d like to start with that–ranges, like we said in the beginning of the podcast, from anxiety to ADHD to autism to PTSD. Depending on what you are experiencing, things become a problem when they start to affect your daily life, they start to affect your functioning, they start to affect you being able to go to work, being able to hang out with friends. That’s one of the big signs, I would say, of when you need to get help. So I would start with, like, depression because a lot of people tend to relate to this or understand this. Sadness is a normal emotion. Just like you can be happy, you can be angry, you can be sad. It is normal. Now, when does it start to get into depression? Depression is when you feel like this is lingering. With sadness, for example, let’s say you got into an argument with a friend and you feel sad about it. That can maybe last for an hour during that day, maybe you think about it the next day, the day after, and it kind of goes away, but with depression that kind of lingers. That sadness stays there. You suddenly don’t feel like doing things that you like to do anymore. You suddenly don’t feel like you want to be around people. Maybe in some situations you start to feel like life isn’t worth living. A lot of times when you start to notice those signs you start to think to yourself, “Maybe I need to see somebody.” So there’s the normal stuff, like the sadness, and there’s the stuff that is kind of far away from the norm where you’re not being yourself. So you’re withdrawn from people and you’re starting to think it might be better if you’re not alive anymore. Usually that’s when I would say, “Okay, you need to go see somebody,” and sometimes maybe the feeling of sadness might linger for a week, but if it’s going on a little bit more than a week I would suggest, okay, going to talk to somebody, and they could kind of evaluate you or kind of go through some of those things that you’re thinking and see if there’s maybe some type of depression or anxiety of something causing you to feel the way that you feel.
Latricia: I think using depression as an example is really good. I think a lot of people can definitely relate to that, a lot of people in our audience as well. You know, when you’re in your 20s, that’s typically when people experiences sometimes their first psychotic break, so it’s very important to be aware for some of those signs that you mentioned and actually take action to see a health care provider. So my next question is how do you select a health care provider? I know for me–I’ve done my research just trying to look for a mental health provider, and I still haven’t been able to find one yet. I have decent insurance through my job, and I’ve been looking for a Ph.D, an MD psychologist or psychiatrist that I can go see, but I’m also looking for one that’s a person of color and, like, as you mentioned before, you don’t see a lot of people of color in that field. So could you talk a little bit more about, like, strategies on how to find somebody that you could relate to? I know there’s other levels of psychology. Master’s and other forms. Like, could you just explain that breakdown?
Tobi: Yes. This is actually one of my favorite things to talk about. There’s so many people that could provide mental health services. Like Latricia was saying, you have your psychiatrists, which is a medical doctor. Goes to medical school, does a psychiatry residency. They provide, you know, medication treatment, and they also provide therapy services. And then you have your clinical psychologists, a lot of them whom have a Ph.D in clinical psychology, or some people have a, you know, Ph.D in education with maybe a concentration in some therapy services. You have your licensed professional counselors. You have your social workers, a lot of them with masters in that and have training in therapy, and you also have your nurses or nurse practitioners that also do that kind of stuff. There’s different ways to find people. The American Psychiatric Association has a Find A Provider tab where you can look up psychiatrists in your area I believe by zip code, and you can find a provider on there. Same with the American Psychological Association. You can go on there and find that. Some friends we’ve worked on looking at, I believe it’s the Black Psychologists Association. I can’t remember the exact one, but if you looked up, like–yeah, ABPsi, and they have a Find A Provider tab, and you can find people on there actually if you’re more particular about what your person looks like. Also, recently I stumbled upon something called the Open Path Therapy Initiative, which is a nation-wide–so it’s a non-profit organization that has partnered with different mental health providers in all 50 states, and it’s–this is mostly for people with no insurance or are under-insured, and if you go on there, you pay a one-time $49 fee, and you can find many providers in your area by just putting in your zip code. I actually know somebody that’s used this service and told me when she looked it up she found, like, six black therapists in her area. And so that is something that appears to be very legit in finding a provider. I know it’s very, very difficult to find a psychiatrist or psychologist without, you know, asking someone else who’s used those services before, but another thing that people can do if you have insurance and you often use your insurance is your insurance has a list of providers that provide services for you, and so if your insurance covers behavioral health services, you should be able to find mental health providers that accept your insurance if they do so. And for those that don’t accept insurance, you know, you can also Google and find some providers, but those resources I mentioned earlier are pretty legit in terms of, you know, providers that are out there that can provide mental health services for you, and in my opinion, and this is not, like, a science-based type of thing, all of these people are trained and have to take exams to be licensed to do therapy or provide, you know, mental health services to people, and so whether you pick a psychiatrist versus a psychologist or a social worker or a professional counselor, you’re going to get good service.
Latricia: That’s all–that’s good stuff, so we’ll make sure we list all of those resources in the description of this podcast as well as on our show notes online so everyone that’s listening can go and check that out. And I’m glad you made that clarification. I’ve been looking for doctorates not knowing that, you know, a master’s degree level social worker, an LPC, could provide those same services if I’m looking for therapy or counseling, and that really does expand your options, and so that’s also really important. Once you do go through that process of working with a mental health provider, you may be diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s like?
Tobi: Our job as a provider is to be supportive and to educate the patient on what their mental health disorder is, what does this mean for you. As a provider, what I often tend to do–especially if they have no experience in this–is explain “What does this mean to me?” So discussing with them what does depression mean or anxiety mean or bipolar disorder mean or borderline personality disorder mean, and how does it affect, you know, my life moving forward is what I try to do for them.
Latricia: So on the topic of being the only one at work or the other at work, that brings me to this video that our college classmate put out about two years ago. Some of y’all that are listening in right now, you may know Evelyn from the Internets, and if you don’t know Evelyn from the Internets, I don’t know, like, where you’ve been, but you need to maybe even pause the pod–you need to maybe even pause the podcast and look up Evelyn from the Internets. She is hilarious. So maybe about two years ago, Evelyn put out a video, and it was after a series of videos that went viral about black death. So we remember Trayvon Martin. We remember Alton Sterling, and we remember seeing lots of images online and lots of debates online, and if I go back to that time–and even today we’re still seeing it. I try to stay away and not even click on it sometimes, but when I go back to those moments, I remember just feeling down and going back to work and no one’s talking about it, and if they are talking about it it’s–they’re seeing it from a perspective that is very narrow-minded, and so Evelyn put out a video called Calling In Black. So on those days where you just feel like “This is a lot. This is a lot to deal with. This is a lot for me to process right now. I’m going through–” sometimes going through trauma or PTSD, and “I don’t think I can function at work today. I don’t think I want to be around people who don’t care about this issue,” and so the video was about calling in black. And we’ll drop a little clip. So Sound Man, drop a little clip so they can hear what we’re talking about.
Evelyn: Sometimes I need a minute, okay? And that’s where calling in black would be so clutch. “Oh, no, no. It’s not contagious. I need a solid day to reaffirm my humanity to myself, so I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Oh, no, no. It’s not allergies, it’s just I just watched the police choke somebody to death and I know they’re not gonna go to jail for it, so I’ll see you at 11.” “I have a slight fever… boiling with the rage of the police killing my people.”
Latricia: So Tobi, that video–it’s funny, right? Evelyn, she’s hilarious. So, I mean, what do you think about that? This idea of calling in black and doing that to preserve your mental health.
Tobi: Honestly, like, I might not necessarily call it “calling in black,” but–you know, there’s a reason they give you guys days off or, you know, sick days, and if you need to take a mental health day I am all for it. I totally believe that in order to function 100% your mind has to be right. I always tell people if your mind isn’t right, you don’t sleep well, you don’t eat, you don’t do well. Mind isn’t right, physical body isn’t right? You can’t function at work, and so if there is something that affects your mental health and you feel like you just can’t function, take that day off. I mean, there’s all of those days there. What are you gonna do by going to work if you don’t feel great and, you know, you’re sitting there in your cubicle or whatever it is, office space, sitting there angry, broiling, you know, about the situation, and there’s no one you can talk to. Go home, or stay home, and take that day off. Get yourself right because in order for you to be 100% where you need to be, you need to take that break. Go hang out with other black people and talk to somebody about the situation. Go talk to your therapist about it. Go work out. I am totally for taking those days off. As a matter of fact, you know, I know I don’t have that many days to take off, but I try to take, you know, one day off at least a month just to give myself a break because in order for your physical body to be good, your mental health has to be good. If you’re not mentally right–and I know I’ve said this multiple times–you’re not able to do anything else. So I’m all for it. I agree with Evelyn. I will call in black whenever I need to and take the time that I need to whenever I have to.
Latricia: I agree. I mean, working in Corporate America, it’s such a fast-paced and competitive environment, and I am guilty of not using my PTO. Like, I will max out my PTO and never use it, but I do have those days where I’m at work and I’m like, “I’m not functioning right. I should’ve just taken off and taken a break.” And so–yes, we’re gonna let y’all know, everyone that’s listening, if you need to just take a mental health day, whether you have a diagnosis or you don’t have a diagnosis, take that time for yourself. You have your sick days, your PTO, for a reason. Take the time off. It’s not good for your health to put yourself in very stressful environments when, you know, you need time to cope. You need time to sit and just, you know, deal with what you’re going through. So thank you for that, thank you for that. All right. Yes, that’s so important, just maintaining your mental health and maintaining what’s happiness to you is gonna be very important for you to be sustainable, especially in a corporate and fast-paced environment. You need to make sure that you’re performing at your best and you’re at full health. And so thank you so much, Tobi, for just talking to us about mental health and just making it very easy to comprehend and understand, ’cause I know for a lot of people it’s foreign territory, whether they’re educated or not. It’s foreign to so many people, especially underrepresented groups, and so I really do appreciate you for taking your time out. I know residency life is no joke. I know y’all work crazy hours, so I’m so grateful that you had the time to sit with us, and we’re gonna make sure we leave all of your contact information below. But before we let you go, Tobi, do you have any shout outs that you’d like to give? Like, if you want to shout out your YouTube channel, your Instagram, let them know.
Tobi: Oh, yes. Okay, yes. So I’d like to share my Instagram page with you guys. It is @WhereIsTobi, where is T-O-B-I, and from time to time I will share either mental health facts or do some mental health trivia. In the long term, I’m working on creating a mental health page where we can talk about everything mental health, whether it’s bipolar disorder or autism or schizophrenia, whatever it is you’d like to be. I’m all about educating people on mental health because, like Latricia said, a lot of people don’t understand it, and I think, you know, what you don’t know can actually hurt you. So I will be working on that, but in the meantime y’all can follow my personal Instagram page WhereIsTobi. Thank you.
Latricia: Thank you so much, Tobi. That was such a great interview. It was really good to just, at a high level, understand mental health. How do you find a practitioner? If you do become diagnosed with a mental health illness, you know, this is what you can do to make sure that you maintain your health long-term, which is really important. So we’re doing something a little different. We have our second interviewer, Ph.D candidate Nonye Nwosu, and she’s gonna talk to us a little bit more about this concept of neurodiversity. So before we dive into that, Nonye, could you just introduce yourself and let us know your background?
Nonye: Hi. Okay, I’m Nonye Nwosu. I am a Ph.D, a doctoral candidate, in developmental psychology. I will be obtaining my Ph.D at Georgia State University, and my research [inaudible] are in early development. Early child development, language development, the role of parental responsivity and essentially early childhood experiences and intervention and ramifications that that has long-term. And so I have always had a great passion centered around mental health, psychology. Psychology has been a passion for a very long time. I’ve always known I wanted to be a psychologist, and focus on talking with people, interacting with people. I’ve always really enjoyed learning about people’s experiences and kind of, on my own, mapping what that means into how they present themselves and who they become. So the topic today is really close to my heart and very important.
Latricia: Yes, I totally agree. I think when we talk about mental health–when we do talk about it, which is not very often, a lot of the times the focus is on depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, and we’re not always bringing into the conversation other forms of maybe neurological disorders or conditions that can also impact your experiences in the workplace, and I’ve been reading a lot about this new concept of neurodiversity, which talks about the diversity in neurological abilities of people, and so we see those that are so-called neurotypical, and then those that are neuroatypical, so people with autism or ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, and, you know, we don’t really talk a lot about how those conditions impact your experiences in the workplace. And so, Nonye, could you just talk a little bit more about neurodiversity? What is the movement all about?
Nonye: Right. So that’s a good question, and I think I failed to mention that autism spectrum disorder is really the central part of my research work and my passion, and autism is–it’s a condition that has really come to the forefront, especially within society, that we have more awareness of and more acknowledgment of and more discussions surrounding, and interestingly enough the research is kind of lagging behind and putting enough information out there regarding the transitionary period. So early adulthood, late adulthood, many people don’t get diagnosed until much later. So it’s not that the research is scant, but there’s a lot of inform–we’ve got gaps in the literature and in the science regarding what this topic around autism, neurodiversity, means, but neurodiversity kind of more globally. And I think–so I think that it’s something we’re, again, put more acknowledgment and focus on and understanding the promises and the good fortune of appreciating that we can put people–people are really different. People have got a varying spectrum of ability and disability, but more so kind of ability, and they’ve got a varying degree of things that they can bring to all kinds of fields, and figuring out how we can utilize people’s skills and talents. So I see neurodiversity as really being this hedge, this torch-bearer for how we’re going to really move forward and trudge through the trenches and get to the bottom of how we can be more inclusive and more appreciative of the things that people are bringing to the table. A lot of the things that we talk about within my field are how to get–you know, it kind of make me think of, like, Solange’s album A Seat at the Table. We want to be able to give everyone an opportunity to have a seat at the table, you know? A place in the workforce, and to be useful, and I talk about autism a lot because it is my research area, but one number that I hear quite often–I hear the number 80%, and I’ve heard around 60-80%. 60-80% of functional individuals who are on the spectrum are unemployed and seen as being unemployable, and that is essentially because we haven’t acknowledged or entirely appreciated this topic of neurodiversity, being able to see individuals as neurodivergent, and what we say there is essentially that we have this idea of how people should be thinking, how people should be talking, how people should be presenting themselves across fields, across jobs, across vocations, and perhaps we shouldn’t be so stringent with our guidelines, and we can appreciate that, okay, just because this person doesn’t have strengths in interpersonal social communication or, you know, isn’t the best at giving research presentations, well, perhaps maybe we can–we can utilize the fact that they’re excellent coders. They can pay great attention to detail. They can sit endlessly for hours and bang out numbers and provide us with all kinds of statistics instead of just assuming that, well, because they don’t want to be talking at the water cooler with everybody or because at lunch they sit by themselves that they’re kind of worthless or that they make people uncomfortable because they’re, you know, socially withdrawn, but more so neurodiversity acknowledges that everybody can have a place in the workforce, a seat at the table, and we can make them a part of the team and utilize their skill sets and perhaps even our deficits in our skill sets as well.
Latricia: That’s all really important, and you used a lot of terminology that everyone may not totally be familiar with, so could you kind of break down what some of the language means? So what does it mean to be neurodivergent or neurodiverse or neurotypical? Could you kind of break that down for us?
Nonye: Okay, so–yeah, that’s a very important point. We don’t want to get too–we can’t not acknowledge that jargon is being used here. So I think–for me, my understanding of neurodiversity is this movement–excuse me, this theoretical framework, this belief that individuals come to the table with a varying amount of cognitive ability, cognitive skill, and fluency and behavior, and–again, it centers really around cognitive ability. So this notion, if you break it down–you know, neuro being, you know, brain, biologically brain, and diversity being different, that we’ve got a varying amount of skill and deficits in different areas, and it’s not just the people who have got these labels or who are termed with biological disorders that have things that are different about them or quote unquote wrong with them. So acknowledging that we’ve all got things, and it can mean anything, really. Neurodivergent, what I’m talking about there is this–you know, taking from anything. So when you’ve got this kind of baseline or this blueprint for how things are supposed to be typically–so we talk about neurotypicality, individuals who are essentially–and this is really rudimentary and really rough because, as Tobi has talked about, Dr. Odunsi’s talked about, like, there is a varying amount of I guess ability. One of the things that you often mention with mental health or mental illness is, you know, you’re considering something a mental illness when it’s become–it’s leading to distress or dysfunction or disability, right? So I’ve always had a hard time understanding neurotypicality because while people are presenting themselves to be functional, it doesn’t entirely mean that they are, right? I guess essentially the literature recognizes–the society recognizes neurotypicality as people who are essentially just normal, maybe people who are not on the spectrum. People who don’t have these tangible or visible illnesses or disabilities that disallow them to participate in everyday life. And then neurodivergent being related to the neurotypicality in that they’re essentially–they’re essentially diverging from that framework or that blueprint that you have in understanding what is normal. So when we talk a lot in my field about development, we look at it as being typical or atypical, and I see neurodivergency as being something atypical that’s kind of moving away from how we see neurotypicality. So an individual who’s on the spectrum may be considered neurodivergent because they may have a very unique way of approaching problems or a very unique approach to working, and we may consider them to be neurodivergent.
Latricia: Could you also list some of the–
Nonye: Individuals who may be considered neurodivergent, yeah, may present with, you know, ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Individuals who, you know, maybe even have generalized anxiety disorders, they’ll be the people who kind of have a global, pervasive, impairing weight. Like, anxiety is really impairing to them, across circumstances, events, situations. I would see people who have Down syndrome as well being involved in kind of adding to that neurodivergency, people who are Fragile X, and if you think more about when people who maybe we’re not talking about, neurodevelopmental or a neurobiological disorder. People who–neurodivergency can–it can be seen in, like I said, generalized anxiety disorders. You can see it in people perhaps who have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. People who just have a different approach, I believe, in seeing things and thinking about things.
Latricia: Great. Thank you so much for just kind of explaining to us some of these terms and the different ways that people may present themselves cognitively in society and obviously in the workplace as well. I think it’s important for everyone that’s listening in–whether you identify or would be classified as neurotypical or neuroatypical or neurodivergent, it’s important to be aware of these things because we talk a lot in Corporate America about diversity and inclusion, and, you know, race and gender and sexuality, those tend to be the biggest focus point, and neurodiversity, with it being quote unquote a newer movement, it’s not something that we talk about a lot, and these conversations can be very difficult because we’re having to–we’re having to look at work differently, and we’re having to really focus in now on people’s strengths and how we can–how we can tap into those strengths and improve our businesses, because as you were mentioning before, you may be neuroatypical, but you’re a really good coder, or you can sit for–like, sit for hours and crunch numbers, but, you know, you may have language issues. You may, you know, stutter, or other forms of things that are cognitively impaired, but a lot of times we write you off because of that, and we’re not truly maximizing everyone’s potential in the workplace, and there is a true business case for maximizing potential obviously, right? So could you talk a little bit about workplace relationships? ‘Cause I think everyone needs to hear this. Based on your experience, you know, and your research or with your clients that you’ve worked with, how has the transition into the workplace been for those who are maybe neuroatypical? Do you see increased social anxiety? Do you see those people tend to be outcasted by employers or by other employees? What have you seen just in your research? ‘Cause I think it’s important for us to talk about this and have a better understanding.
Nonye: So much of existing within the corporate stratosphere and the workforce has to do with how you can promote yourself, interact with people and just exist, right? And not even just exist. Essentially it’s just how you’re kind of able to relate to people, and so for these individuals we’ve seen lots of things with–and especially when you’re having a much more difficult time than those who could be just as similar as you, but on the appearance level, color level, not look exactly similar to you. So a lot of my interest has been in minority populations as well, and so I kind of consume myself with that literature, and–
Latricia: Right. I totally agree when you talk a little bit about the culture of Corporate America. Of course every company is different and every company has its own I guess cultural fit, but there are some standards I guess in Corporate America, and I’m not saying standard by meaning “This is the best practice,” but there are certain ways that we operate in Corporate America. And again, talking about diversity and inclusion, you know, what are we doing to kind of rethink some of our cultural norms and think about who’s being excluded and what talent are we missing out on because we’ve created a culture that makes certain people feel uncomfortable? And we talk about race, we talk about gender. You know, what other social norms are making other populations uncomfortable, and what can we do in Corporate America to make the place more inclusive? So that leads me to my next question about just creating environments that people who are neurodivergent can feel comfortable in. So could you speak a little bit about what is happening right now that you’ve maybe come across in your research to make the workplace more inclusive to those who are neurodivergent?
Nonye: Right. That’s–I think we’re–again, like I’ve said, science, the world, society, can be behind in getting with the times if you will, but I see promise and initiatives and efforts that are being made. One thing–there’s a couple things that jump to mind, and you do happen to see this in bigger cities kind of where you’ve got a big university or organizational presence and maybe more non-profits, but I have participated in something called the LEND Fellowship, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Fellowship, twice, and more recently one that I participated in was helmed by the Center for Leadership and Disability at Georgia State University where they task themselves–they’re taking very seriously hiring, employing, and getting what we call self-advocates, individual advocates out there to talk about their experiences. One thing I heard a lot about was getting a seat at the table and not just having representatives come in and talk about your experience when you have the very right ability to talk about your experience yourself. So you see that a lot happening in more educational settings and maybe more scientific organizations and agencies as well, where they’re trying to make efforts to employ, to get people in councils, who represent the issues that they’re discussing. Parents have been really, really excellent in not only advocating for their children within school settings and systems and more in their communities but on the legislative level in Congress and Capitol Hill as well, and I think–another thing that jumps to mind too is universities who have–like, Georgia Tech has, like, the Excel Program. People who are really trying to promote and prioritize not even just bringing individuals to have a seat at the table and talk about their experiences but presenting them with very structured opportunities and experiences where they can matriculate into the workforce and into areas of which that they feel successful in, and not even just workforce, but Excel for example having these inclusive environments where you’re making them a part of the university, the campus life atmosphere, and having them be a part of discussions that are being had around not just what’s going on with them but broader discussions, and politics and workplace life and exercise. That’s one thing that I liked about that program as well. So these are for individuals [inaudible], and what I also appreciate about this is–this is a range, a spectrum of ability, and less about kind of I.Q. but more about adaptive kind of daily living, functioning. So not just how well you’re doing in your classes, but shifting the emphasis to things like, “Are you able to get up in the morning, brush your teeth, put your clothes on, and go to classes?” Or “Are you able to”–if you can do all those things, you know, if you’re highly academically intelligent, “Are you able to be organized, keep a schedule, and show up to work on time?” These kinds of things, and if not we can help you. And including the community within that. So again, I think about Excel, but they’ve done things where they’ve got, you know, [inaudible], and there are a number of companies who have the–who are [inaudible], like Delta, Chick-fil-A, and talking to these individuals, seeing what they’re interested in, seeing what they’re good at, and giving them opportunities to be a part of these bigger organizations and contribute what they can contribute. Like I said, these are happening in bigger cities, and so that can be a little bit–that doesn’t essentially entirely promote this idea of inclusivity, but efforts are being made, and I think it starts with acknowledgement and understanding things like what this podcast is doing and recognizing the varying spectrum of ability and contribution. [inaudible] yourself if you can [inaudible] that person. I met a man out here who is the district manager for a Chick-fil-A. He owns two Chick-fil-A franchises and makes an important focus on hiring individuals who have disabilities and who, if they can’t be at the front register interacting with individuals, giving them something to do, and these individuals want to work. They want to be a part, and they usually do not take for granted the fact that someone has given them some kind of opportunity and someone is willing to work with them. And sometimes they may require extra effort. Maybe someone who’s gonna spend a little bit more time training them, who could look out for them and watch out for them, but I think it can be acknowledged that if the story has been they can’t contribute to the workforce or they can’t contribute to life and we’re not seeing that, then things can and should change.
Latricia: That’s great. You listed off a lot of really good resources, and again, in addition to what Tobi listed off, we will list all of those resources in our show notes so people can go in and see, you know, what’s being done out there to create more inclusive environments, what’s going on in our community. You know, do we have access to universities that we can partner with that we can learn from? Because this is a topic that if you’re not–you know, if you don’t have someone close to you that may be affected by this it’s not really on a lot of people’s radars, and I really liked some of those stories that you shared, just to know that, you know, we’re trying to work on creating a more open culture. So having people who may present with some of these neuroatypical disorders to speak out and be open about their experiences and having, you know, more advocacy is all gonna be really important because the awareness is where I personally I feel we’re lacking. I haven’t heard a lot of conversations about this in my experience in over three years now in Corporate America. It’s not something that we’ve really talked about in the diversity and inclusion discussion. So again, you know, it’s great to hear that, you know, there are organizations out there that are trying to push this forward, and we really want to get this message out to our audience so that they can go back to their organizations and start to really think about how we can create a more open culture, how can we raise more awareness, and what can we do structurally to help make sure that everyone feels welcome? Like, what can we do with our workspaces? What can we do in terms of, like, how we socialize, and how can we be more aware? So thank you so much for educating it us on this topic. I know you come from a Ph.D background. Like, you can go into all the science and stuff like that, but you were able to present it in a way that’s easily digestible, and hopefully everyone was able to take something away from this discussion. So great. Well, thank you so much again, Nonye. It was so nice to have you on the show. Again, you and Dr. Odunsi, very busy people, so it’s really great that y’all are taking time to give back and talk to people about this very important issue.
Nonye: Thank you so much for having us, Latricia, and I’m appreciative too for any opportunity to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly honestly, and to figure out how we can find a place and–[inaudible] like you said, the most important aspect is awareness, and, you know, awareness does not exist without dialogue and discussion and the ability to be vulnerable and have discussions and learn from that.
Latricia: I totally agree. So before we let you go, do you have any shout outs?
Nonye: I want to give a shout out to Living Corporate because this is a big deal. [both laugh]
Latricia: Thank you.
Nonye: What you guys are doing is very–I mean, it’s a very unique approach that you’re taking to having a very important discussion and really capitalizing, I think, on a number of kind of different zeitgeists that are happening. I will give a shout out to the Green Light [inaudible], to my people, the culture, just for my appreciation for understanding so much. So much of, like, who I am is related to–as a child developmental psychologist, right? So much of I think who I am and the way I see the world is related to what I’ve learned from the people around me, from my neighborhoods, from my networks, from my friends, over time. I also think I want to give a really big shout out to my mentor at the CDC, Dr. Marshall [inaudible], who is, you know, a maverick who’s a pioneer in leading the Autism and Developmental Disabilities monitoring network who has just spearheaded essentially a really big–people who put out our prevalence numbers, the research that goes into having a better understanding of prevalence, of a number of neurodevelopmental disabilities, and from that they’re also getting–there’s been so much more effort to understand ethnic and racial differences within these developmental disabilities, and they’re finding a lot of things and saying that we need to target that and to charge that as well. And to Dr. Odunsi for being a hero.
Latricia: Thanks so much. We’ll definitely–any of those shout outs that you would like for us to share, we’ll put that in there as well. So thanks again for joining the show. It was a really great conversation with Dr. Odunsi and future Dr. Nonye Nwosu. So thanks again, and that’s all we have.
Zach: And we’re back. Latricia, that was a great interview. I feel like I learned a lot, and I have some additional tools in my toolkit to deal with anxiety, self-care, and really leveraging my own resources. I know for me, I need to be more intentional with my own care and how I manage myself. Just looking at the statistics, they’re eye-opening, but they honestly weren’t that shocking. How did you feel about the interview?
Latricia: I agree. The statistics really aren’t that shocking when you take a moment and really self-reflect on your own experiences with mental health in the workplace. Another really important takeaway for me was the importance of expanding the diversity and inclusion conversation to also be more inclusive of the varieties and the diversities of mental health abilities and understanding that we all bring different strengths to the table, so what can we do in the corporate space to be more open and understanding of that concept? Of that very important concept.
Zach: No, you’re absolutely right, and when you talk about diversity and inclusion, again, like it really matters, and it comes into play with everything in our society. That doesn’t mean that we’re making it about race. That doesn’t mean that we’re trying to create a new narrative or whatever else the other buzz phrases are. It’s about being honest and really thinking through how people of color have to live and move in this society. And I think it’s really gonna be important that we list all of the different resources and references that were made during the interview, that we put those in the show notes as well, you know?
Latricia: Certainly. We’ll make sure that everything is listed in the show notes so that you can get access to those resources related to how to find a mental health provider or other mental health institutions that are out there that can help you deal with some of your mental health concerns. And I also want to give a shout out to a couple of other podcasts that really are centered around this topic of mental health that our audience may find interesting. There’s Therapy for Black Girls, the Affirmed podcast, Black and Therapy podcast, With That Being Said podcast, and Melanin and Mental Health. And we’ll link these in the description as well.
Zach: Those are great shout outs, and I definitely want to actually include Deun Ivory’s Black Girl In Om and Lauren Ash’s Black Girl In Om podcast. I know we just had ’em on the B-Side, but they’re actually really good and they fit into this niche well around mental wellness, therapy, self-care. So it’s really good. Now, with that being said, let’s get into Favorite Things, okay? And I’m gonna go ahead and kick it off. My favorite thing right now is yet another book, but it’s not an aggressive book title this time, okay? It’s called Real Food: What to Eat and Why. As many of you know, diet plays an important role in mental health, so knowing what to fuel your body with is important. Latricia, what is your favorite thing right now?
Latricia: So I know I give Amazon a shout out all the time, so, you know, we do need to pitch to Amazon for sponsorship [laughs] because I’m always giving them shout outs, but Amazon, it’s so clutch. So kind of again on that topic of mental health, I’ve really been working on trying to get on my work out grind, ’cause Dr. Odunsi said in the interview, exercise is a great way to cope with different mental health illnesses or conditions that you’re dealing with, and as a consultant, again, we travel a lot and sometimes work very odd hours, so I may not leave the client site before the gym closes. And so I’m trying to find more ways to work out in my hotel room, so I’ve really been enjoying some of the different products that I’ve purchased from Amazon’s travel equipment, travel work out equipment. And so I’ll link some of the work out equipment that I use on a daily basis.
Zach: Awesome. And look, guys, remember – the favorite things that we talk about on the show are also listed on the website, so check those out. And I think that’s gonna do it for us on Living Corporate. Thank you for joining the show. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I think that does it for us on the show. My name is Zach.
Latricia: And I’m Latricia.
Latricia and Zach: Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at email@example.com. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.