Claudine Miles is the CEO and co-founder of Restore More. Her company is dedicated to exploring wellness strategies to uplift communities of color. She has received awards and grants for innovative work in mental health and wellness restoration. Miles advocated and had two policies passed in Atlanta Public Schools for restorative practices and trauma informed care. She specializes in Restorative Practices, Mental Health First Aid, & Title I. Turnaround Work and the mental health of working parents and their children. The following is an excerpt of the conversation she had with Dr. Weaver.
Weaver: There has been a lot of discussion on the role of mental health and how it’s impacting the work force, particularly in this COVID pandemic. Claudine Miles is going to talk about helping parents understand and think about how they can cope with these mental health challenges of their children and how it’s showing up for them in their workplaces. Why did you choose Restore More as your company’s name?
Miles: I have a firm belief that there are a lot of people in this world that are hurting due to some things that have happened in their past, whether it be their childhood or even their career and healing is needed. One of my unique gifts is being able to sit with people in pain and trauma and to listen deeply to ultimately like empower them to take steps to achieve the healing. I thought it was bold to go out and say, we’re going to restore people. Through this work I’ve heard from countless people, whether they’re parents, teachers, or students that we do, in fact, leave them feeling restored.
Weaver: We found that one out of two parents have taken time off from work to deal with mental health issues of their children. What else is the data telling you?
Miles: They’re so overworked that at times they feel like they need to step back or away from work to be better parents. They are stretched thin. They’re trying to handle all the responsibilities of being a professional while ultimately raising healthy and whole children. And they’re disconnected. Connection goes hand in hand with wellness but the way our society currently functions –we go to work, come home, parent the kids and we might see people on social media — but there has been this removal of connection because of COVID.
Weaver: Without warning parents were forced to figure out how they could participate in schooling their children virtually. Parents have all these work demands, and they have to figure out how to deal with teaching their kids all day. We’ve heard from so many of our corporate partners of the trauma that many parents felt with this and the impact COVID has had on the mental health status of families and children. There has been a 129% increase in the number of children that do some form of self-harm. What is the type of mental health challenges that you’ve seen show up for children in this COVID era?
Miles: I think that’s an important question to talk about because while youth mental health was an important topic, pre COVID, the challenge has exploded. We’re seeing this across the country where students have reported that mental health challenges are increasing. After being physically out of school for some students are having trouble with connecting with peers. When they head back to school, we’ve seen more incidents of self-harm, whether that is actual attempted suicide or things like cutting or pills, or even ingesting chemicals with the desire to inflict self-harm. We’re also seeing record numbers of children reporting struggles with anxiety, depression, and diagnosable mental health conditions, which has exploded since March of 2022.
Weaver: What are ways that parents are trying to cope with that?
Claudine Miles: In the beginning of the pandemic, parents were just trying to do the best that they could. They don’t always know what the signs of concern are. They don’t always know what to do when they do see those signs and how to get help. There isn’t always seemingly a safe space to discuss these things. For example, “My child is having suicidal ideations. They’re telling me that they want to harm themselves. Or my child is sounding hopeless.” Parents are scared, understandably, but they’re also going through this learning curve where they’re trying to figure out what to do.
Weaver: What are employers doing to encourage their employees to be more open and to seek help?
Claudine Miles: The best ones with best practices are making space to talk about this. You cannot expect employees to talk about it on their own. If I acknowledge that I’ve been depressed or that I even had a hospitalization in my past, is that going to be used against me? Is that going to be turned and spinned into why I’m not capable to do this job? What employers know is that majority of their workforces have had some experience with mental health support, and we’ve got to normalize that mental health is just as important as physical health.
Some of the best organizations that are leading in this space are normalizing these conversations. An amazing Fortune 500 bank that we worked with, reached out to us, and said that their parents are struggling. They didn’t know how to respond to suddenly being teachers. They’re seeing these huge emotional shifts in their kids, and they don’t know how to support them. We provided a lot of love and resources for parents.
The best organizations are finding work like ours to make it easy. If you don’t have a skillset to take away the shame of these types of conversations, sometimes you need to bring in that outside provider to offer that. One other thing that I’ve seen organizations do well in the last two years is reiterate, clarify, and even potentially adjust their employee assistance programs from a mental health perspective. I am seeing organizations take the lead and normalizing saying that you have therapy sessions so please use them. They are checking in on people by asking “How’s their heart doing?” versus “How’s the work going?”
Weaver: How did the employees respond to it?
Claudine Miles: They’re so perplexed because they’ve never had anything like it. They haven’t had a safe space to acknowledge that parenting is hard, to say that they are struggling with burnout, and “it has increased my depressive symptoms.” They haven’t had an opportunity to share space with other parents to be brutally honest about how taxing it is. We’re creating these unique opportunities where folks can go into breakout spaces and they’re able to just unrestrictedly be themselves and be honest. There aren’t enough safe spaces, particularly in the workplace, where people are continuing to say, I feel heard, I feel seen, I feel validated and now I have a couple of strategies and I feel restored. Being restored is what happens when you bring a collective group together and channel the energy towards something productive and constructive to those individuals.
Weaver: Have you seen that impact in the companies that you’re working with?
Claudine Miles: We’re assessing where parents come in at the beginning of the work with us and then how they feel after. We’re seeing staff acknowledging that they feel seen, heard, and valued by a company that cares about their wellbeing. Healthy whole adults lead to better outcomes for any organization. Employees are going to be more happy, healthy, whole, efficient, and innovative. In the professional spaces they ask you to check your emotions at the door, but the reality is most humans carry them into the workplace.
Weaver: What is the impact of the different generations in our workforce?
Miles: Personal happiness, community impact, and commitment to a cause are values that are high on the barometers of millennials. From an organizational standpoint, if you are not highlighting those things, you might miss out on an entire amazing group of professionals that can innovate in a unique way.
A really simple way to open this dialogue is to use the method called rose, bud, and thorn. You let staff know that you want to see how they’re doing. The next time you meet with them, ask them…
- What is a rose or a bloom? What’s a positive area in your personal life that is sprouting, and it makes you smile?
- What is a bud? What’s something that’s growing in your personal life that’s uncomfortable or unenjoyable, but you know it’s going to lead to something good in the end?
- What is a thorn? What’s something that is sticking you in the side, making it hard for you to sleep at night and troubling?
If employers took five to ten minutes with their employees, it would do a world of good. It’s an individual conversation but you could have it with the team. If the end goal is to get a pulse on their wellness, this is a great way to do connect deeply and efficiently. Organizations just don’t do it enough and we need to do it more.