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Coronavirus: Mental Health is the Dark side of the Restaurant Industry

If mental health was one of the biggest and most silent issues in the restaurant industry, imagine what's doing to chefs and staff during a crisis like the one we are living in.

BY RSVP May 20,2020

Eight in 10 chefs have reported experiencing poor mental health during their careers and almost half (48%) believe not enough is being done to support their mental wellbeing in the workplace. 

That is according to a recent survey by Nestlé Professional's Chef range, which has released a report, At Boiling Point: Addressing mental wellbeing in professional kitchens, exploring mental health in kitchens and what can be done to reduce stress.

The research shows that the top factors contributing to stress are staff shortages (58%), lack of time (43%) and limited budgets (42%). The lack of daylight was also cited, with 41% saying it negatively impacted on their wellbeing. Almost three-quarters (73%) of chefs admitted to calling in sick due to stress.

For too long, life as a chef has meant putting emotional wellbeing on the back-burner. According to Food & Wine Senior Editor Kat Kinsman, “If you are too tired and you're not eating and you're just stressing over everybody else, you're not in a place where your tank is full enough to drive a car anywhere safe. It's not selfish to take care of yourself.”

With notable chefs such as Sean Brock or David McMillan opening up about their struggles with addiction and other mental health concerns, the food industry has begun to acknowledge problems that have run rampant since its beginning. 

While initiatives are emerging across the world, reshaping the culture inside our kitchens and restaurants won't happen overnight. But there are a number of individuals and groups pushing for change.

Kinsman was one of the first to address this with an industry-wide solution. Since the suicide of Kat's friend and associate, Anthony Bourdain, the conversation about mental health and substance abuse in the hospitality industry has come into sharp focus. She created the group “Chefs with Issues,” where every week Kinsman asks group members “What are you doing to prioritize self-care this week?” Chefs with Issues is a communal space for people to vent their frustrations, voice their fears, and find solutions for challenges. 

Many chefs agree that one of the only reasons they have been able to get through mental health concerns is because they have had a group of people to talk to and felt open in talking to them.

The Cooks Who Care project, started by chefs Maria and Scott Campbell, connects restaurant employees with wellness resources since 2015. The initiative based in Philadelphia promotes culture change in the industry through sharing stories, getting chefs out of the kitchen and to small gatherings, and letting them know there's a life beyond kitchen walls. During coronavirus, Cooks Who Care has started a Google Doc file for food industry workers and operators, in which chefs can find articles, policy links, print-outs, education and more.

(If you are a chef or a food industry worker and need to talk, RSVP is also here for you. Just send us an email at support@rsvp-popup.com)