Pabel Martinez Launched Plurawl, a Mental Health App For Latines

Elias Gelpi

It’s no secret that our lives are becoming more digital with each passing day. It’s one of the reasons the tech sector has grown so rapidly – it’s now the third largest employer behind manufacturing and government in the US. With perks such as the ability to work remotely, flexible office hours, progressive benefits packages, and stock options, tech jobs for millennials and Gen Z today are what pension jobs were for boomers and Gen X. For Dominican American and native New Yorker, Pabel Martinez, a career in tech gave him the opportunity to not only start his own tech company, but also attempt to solve a very real problem that many Black and Brown people in the industry struggle with, which is the toll technology takes on their mental health. It’s one that Martinez has experienced himself.

“I told myself I was going to do whatever it took to make it. And I was willing to [ignore] my mental health in order to reach that point of success,” says Martinez.

The pressure Martinez placed on himself to succeed at whatever cost was partially due to his upbringing. Growing up in housing projects on the Upper West Side in New York, Martinez lived in the shadows of billionaire penthouses and excessive wealth. NYC is unique in that way. You can be well below the poverty line and still have a front-row view of how the other half lives. For Martinez, walking down West End Avenue and staring at the luxury apartments served as motivation. He knew what he wanted. But he never imagined that a career in tech would be the way to get there. One internship during his college years quickly changed all that.

“I was like, they’ve got ping pong tables? They’re drinking beer at their desks? Is this legal?” Martinez recalls.

Tech start-ups have since become notorious for the kind of fast and loose attitudes that turn office spaces into adult playgrounds to keep their staff motivated and productive. But for a young college student like Martinez, who’d previously interned at a stuffy accounting firm, it was a shock to the system – one that left him with no doubt about where he wanted to be.

However, even though he now had a new goal set, he had no idea where to apply. So he opened up his phone and browsed his most-used apps.”At the time, Facebook was the most popping app so I decided, ‘I want to work at Facebook,'” Martinez says. Years later, he accomplished just that – but at a price. The pressure to fit in around his majority-white colleagues meant constantly pretending to be someone he wasn’t and hiding his authentic self, which doubled his stress.

“The level of assimilation I was doing was overwhelming . . . I was a full-on actor,” he shares.

“The level of assimilation I was doing was overwhelming . . . I was a full-on actor.”

Martinez says that the pressure he felt to assimilate in the work environment led him to observe and study white culture deeply. He would watch and listen to things he had no real interest in, all in an effort to find common ground with his colleagues. While this might be an extreme example, the psychological effects of assimilation, such as code-switching, have been well documented. Martinez says he felt code-switching would give him a leg up in the social hierarchy that often plays a major part in who does and doesn’t get promoted. But ironically, dedicating so much energy to fitting in actually impacted his work performance negatively. Thinking he was on his way out, Martinez made the decision to “go out on his terms” and dropped the act. Surprisingly, his work performance then improved.

“It was just a simple math equation. You’ve got 100 percent of your energy, but you’re dedicating 50 percent of that to being an actor. Imagine if you dedicated that time to just doing your job,” Martinez explains.

His epiphany also came around the time that he started taking his mental health more seriously and going to therapy. It allowed him to examine some of the limiting beliefs he was placing around his authentic self. Armed with this knowledge and a refreshed mind, Martinez became dedicated to helping those in Black and Latine communities embrace their authentic selves in the workplace. With his new app, Plurawl, he’s set to do just that, transitioning from a tech employee to tech founder.

Launching this month, Plurawl is the first AI-powered mental health app targeted towards the Black and Brown community. It’s designed to give users better insight into the negative emotions that might hold them back in their personal and professional lives.

“I wanted to help people make sense of their thoughts and, ultimately, limit their limiting beliefs . . . and get to know themselves so that they could be more comfortable being themselves,” says Martinez.

Users write their journal entries directly into the app. Plurawl can then analyze the entry and give users immediate feedback, letting them know whether they are jumping to conclusions or listing some limiting beliefs they display. Should users want or require more detailed feedback, Plurawl’s Open AI-powered chat function allows them to have a real-time conversation with a chatbot that puts the power of a therapy session in the palm of their hand.

While a slew of mental health apps are already on the market, Martinez is confident that Plurawl is launching at the perfect time. It is taking advantage of the greater conversation around privacy and big data to create an app that speaks to its core demographic and addresses the distrust inherent in many Black and Latine communities.

“One of the things that we’re doing is letting go of the potential to give you the richest amount of insights in order to fully encrypt the journal entries because we want that trust from the user,” Martinez says.

Martinez uses the app for his own journaling practice and says the AI chat function has been crucial in helping him remember to celebrate even the smallest victories. However, the biggest takeaway from his mental health journey is probably the simplest: realizing he’s not alone in it. In the future, he sees himself adding gamification tools to the Plurawl app and giving users points for checking in on themselves to remind everyone that we all struggle and are all in this together.

“One of the things that we heard in our research was, ‘I don’t want to go through this alone.’ A lot of dangerous behaviors happen when you’re alone, and the opposite of that is community,” he says.

With that in mind, a later version of the app will allow users to redeem their points for community-based experiences so they can surround themselves with people who look and speak like them and are going through similar challenges, from burnout to imposter syndrome. But for now, he’s satisfied with the fact that he’s creating something he feels will help his community keep it real with themselves and bring authenticity to their actions.

“Life is short,” he says.”Start figuring out who you actually want to be. We can help with that.”

Miguel Machado is a journalist with expertise in the intersection of Latine identity and culture. He does everything from exclusive interviews with Latin music artists to opinion pieces on issues that are relevant to the community, personal essays tied to his Latinidad, and thought pieces and features relating to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture.

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