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Diversity & Inclusion

What one man’s journey tells us about supporting BIPOC mental health

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated May 3, 2022
|5 min read

Just about anything moves war veteran Dr. Raymond Christian to tears these days. His near-constant crying is the byproduct of brain damage he suffered as the result of a stroke. It’s a syndrome called pseudobulbar affect, also known as “emotional incontinence.” And yet, Raymond wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Growing up, Raymond was a kind, introspective, and gentle boy. There wasn’t an animal he didn’t love and his insatiable curiosity often drove him to learn as much as possible about any topic that interested him. “Folks in my community thought I was weird,” he says. “I didn’t act the way they expected boys to act. They didn’t really have any respect for me.” 

What was expected of little boys in Raymond’s community of Churchill — one of the oldest neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia that was in deep decline — was to grow up to be big and strong and get a job as soon as possible. Probably at the local tobacco factory. 

“Most of the other kids I knew dropped out of school to go to work and haul heavy things,” he said. “Everyone was so focused on their survival, nobody had any time to think about their potential.” 

Over time, Raymond learned to hide his true nature. To be one of the boys. “I started watching the way I was talking, how I was coming off to other people.”  At the age of 17, “when I was just a boy,” Raymond went ahead and did what the other boys were doing: he joined the military. 

Decades later, after tours in Iraq and Kuwait, rising in the military ranks, and years spent repressing his most vulnerable self, Raymond came home with a severe case of PTSD. 

Declines in mental health can affect people from all backgrounds, but it’s important to recognize that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) often face added pressures and challenges that could stoke their symptoms. Raymond’s story is the perfect example.

“People  didn’t believe that a young black infantryman was capable of higher learning.”

Context counts: Unique BIPOC mental health risk factors 

Many people assume that illnesses like depression and anxiety are mainly driven by genetic or biological factors. An often overlooked and underestimated factor is environmental causes. These can include:

  • Exposure to racial trauma 
  • Exposure to war and violence
  • Experiencing racism, discrimination, and microaggressions 
  • Lack of access to basic needs, education, and proper (i.e. quality, culturally relevant) healthcare 
  • Systemic discrimination, lack of opportunity, and upward mobility 

Raymond’s story is rife with these kinds of harsh realities. ​​Just a few years into his Army career, he enthusiastically applied for academic grants to further his education. “I got denied,” he said. “People  didn’t believe that a young black infantryman was capable of higher learning.”  Time and time again, Raymond had to navigate these forces that were constantly working against him.

A clinical research study published by the Department of Psychiatry at the Wake Forest School of Medicine concluded that: “While minority populations are less likely to suffer from acute episodes of [major depressive disorder] than Caucasians, they are more likely to suffer from prolonged, chronic, and severely debilitating depression with heavy consequences on their level of daily functioning.” 

Changes in daily functioning can be a clear-cut sign that someone is suffering. Raymond knows this intimately, not just as someone who grapples with a mental health disorder, but as an experienced drill sergeant and combat leader in one of the most, if not the most, extreme work environments in the world. 

Spotting signs of stress 

“A broken computer can’t analyze itself,” says Raymond. By which he means: Not everyone who is struggling with their mental health is necessarily aware that they’re struggling. That’s why you count on the people around you to gently call out red flags, like sudden changes in your behavior or personality. 

Calling out these changes in patterns and behaviors outside of work is a role best served by a spouse, family member, or friend. At work, that responsibility can fall on team leaders and teammates. According to Raymond, there are a few common signs that an employee feels stressed, overwhelmed, or detached:


While hustle culture may have people believing that the more time they dedicate to work the better, Raymond wisely reminds us that sometimes people escape to work as a distraction from their personal lives. If an employee is frequently overworking, yet their product or output remains relatively unchanged, it could be a sign that something isn’t right. 


Opposite of over workers are clock watchers. These people may be feeling uninspired or unmotivated toward their work and are simply whiling away the hours until they can clock out. However, paying closer attention to time can also indicate that someone may need a more flexible schedule in order to accommodate personal needs, like needing to leave a little earlier to pick up children from school or daycare. 

Missing days

Missing workdays, calling in sick, or being chronically late may be a sign that someone is suffering. Be compassionate and gentle when approaching employees who appear to have withdrawn from their work. 

It’s important that these patterns aren’t immediately met with punitive measures and to take the time to investigate the possible causes behind someone’s change in behavior. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being sensitive to the news cycle and being aware of what’s happening locally and globally. 

“A broken computer can’t analyze itself.”

You can't get anywhere without exposure or discourse

Then there are times when you may discover that the issue has to do with a situation at work or with another colleague. If that’s the case, it’s every leader’s responsibility to support an employee’s mental health while working towards a resolution. 

“You can’t get anywhere without exposure and discourse,” says Raymond. During his 20-year military career, Raymond said that leaders from different groups would be routinely brought together for the express purpose of learning about each other and how to work with people from different backgrounds and specialties. 

“We emphasized tolerance at the very minimum,” Raymond said of the teams he led in the military. “If you couldn’t get along with people beyond showing them the bare minimum respect — as in, not calling them names and not saying anything bigoted — then you didn’t get to advance.” 

Raymond now has a postdoctoral degree and is embarking on his second career as a writer, storyteller, and teacher. And he’s able to express all of his emotions and interests without fear of judgment.

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