The Food & Wine Pro Guide to Mental Health and Sobriety Resources

Many hospitality workers live in a state of stress, depression, isolation, and anxiety. Here are free and low-cost resources to help manage mental health and sobriety.

On any given Tuesday before the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant industry was in a mental health crisis. There are many reasons why: People who deal with mental health and addiction issues are drawn to this work because it has always been a haven for people who exist on the fringes; restaurant jobs have brutal hours and often pay very little and don't offer healthcare; there is easy access to alcohol and illicit substances; and workers have traditionally been rewarded for their masochism — shut up and cook. Mental health issues have long been part and parcel of restaurant culture, but only in recent years has the industry at large begun openly questioning why that has been so readily accepted and discussing the damage done by sweeping it under the rug.

Scroll down for a list of resources.

Anthony Bourdain's death by suicide in June of 2018 was a wake-up call to the hospitality industry. This unimaginable loss galvanized individuals and communities to form support groups and have uncomfortable but necessary conversations with colleagues and friends and perfect strangers and scrape away some of the stigma around mental health and addiction that equated vulnerability with weakness. There was still a tremendous way to go, but the community was at least stumbling down the road together in the right direction.

And then everything changed. Governmental measures that were enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19 have forced restaurants to adapt quickly. Depending on the state and region, bars closed, countless restaurants quickly pivoted to offering delivery and curbside pickup only, hundreds of thousands of restaurant and bar employees lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently, didn't qualify for unemployment benefits, and many left the industry entirely.

Even though many restaurants are still open, and plenty of new ones have opened, this collective emotional crisis fell especially hard on hospitality workers, who are used to being on the front lines of any emergency. When a natural or man-made disaster strikes, restaurant people are some of the first to step up. They figure out a way to feed people and offer sustenance and solace because it is what they do and who they are. Absent the ability to do that, and in a position of need themselves, cooks, bartenders, servers, and other restaurant workers fell further into crisis. Even if they were not a person who has been prone to mental health or substance abuse issues, it doesn't mean that depression, anxiety, obsession, thoughts of self-harm, and the urge to self-medicate or break sobriety didn't creep in. As restaurateur and Ben's Friends founder Steve Palmer mentioned on the Communal Table podcast, isolation is the enemy of sobriety and mental health — but just because people can't always physically be together doesn't mean that they can't have community.

Isolation is the enemy of sobriety and mental health.

As a person with many years of sobriety under his belt, and facing the same stresses and uncertainty that the rest of the industry faces, Palmer urges people to connect however they can — texts, phone calls, video chats, DMs, emails, and the kinds of recovery meetings that Ben's Friends began conducting via Zoom and are back to hosting in person. Whether you're checking in on someone because you think they need it, or if it's for your own wellbeing, these connections are vital to our existence and remind us that we matter, even in moments when everything feels futile right.

As a person who has dealt with mental health issues for my entire life and has at times absolutely sucked at reaching out for help, I can offer this: Most people want to help, and everyone has needed help over the past few years. It doesn't matter if they seem perfectly fine today, they will need you down the line, because the stresses of the last few years affected everyone. If someone is prickly or angry or makes you feel somehow ashamed or weak for wanting to talk about this, they are very likely having a hard time processing their own fear, pain, and grief.

Yes, grief. My therapist (who I now speak with over the phone) told me that if I find myself breaking down, it's OK. I am in mourning, and that is natural. Some parts of life are going to resolve, and some things are forever changed. We'll get through them together as a society, but processing this as grief is real and valid and allowing yourself to feel it will help me cope — and be able to help other people with the fear they're facing.

I've spoken with countless restaurant workers over the past few years and the frustration and fear is palpable, even though people are speaking of Covid in the past tense. For restaurant workers who structured their entire lives around their career — often to the exclusion of a social life, family, romantic relationships, and their own health and wellbeing — suddenly the unfilled hours stretched out ahead and caused them to question who they were outside of this daily structure.

Here's what I have said to them: You are still a chef, a bartender, a line cook, a server. Even if your restaurant or bar shut down, you are still that person with those skills and that experience. When the restaurant industry rebuilds stronger than ever — and I have to believe it will — you will still be that person, with that value, with that heart and those hands that you possess. Reach out and grab someone else's when you need to; we're all in this together.

Here are some resources for you or to share with someone you care about. We'll be adding more as we this situation develops.

Southern Smoke

Through partnerships and fundraising, Southern Smoke provides free mental health care to anyone in the food and beverage industry — and their children — in the states of Texas, California, Louisiana, and Illinois, and they are working to grow this program to include all 50 states. The group also offers emergency grants to hospitality workers across all 50 states who need funds, including for mental health care. Read more about their mission here. southernsmoke.org/mental-health-services

Ben's Friends

Ben's Friends is a food and beverage industry support group offering hope, fellowship, and a path forward to professionals who struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Founded in honor of Ben Murray, a lifelong chef who took his own life after struggling with alcoholism for years, Ben's Friends exists to provide a safe haven and an anonymous, judgment-free forum for workers in an industry that has one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the country. They are currently offering free Zoom meetings both nationally and locally, and in-person meetings across the United States. bensfriendshope.com

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Call or text 988 from anywhere in the U.S. if you or someone you love is in danger. Free and confidential support is available for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. suicidepreventionlifeline.com

Crisis Text Line

Text the word "HOME" to #741741 at any time, day or night, and you'll be connected to a trained counselor who will help guide you to a calmer state of mind, or help you find the resources you need. The service is free and is also available via Facebook Messenger. crisistextline.org

Not 9 to 5

Hassel Aviles founded Not 9 to 5 to lead mental health advocacy for the foodservice and hospitality sector. Through practical education and meaningful community building, Not 9 to 5 is "reimagining the industry by breaking stigmas and fueling hope." The organization's CNECTing program offers training and certification for industry-specific mental health and substance abuse support. not9to5.org

I Got Your Back

Sacramento chef Patrick Mulvaney calls IGYB "a promise to work together to support our peers and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health and related issues." A sudden rash of suicides and overdoses in the restaurant industry hit Sacramento hard in late 2018 and early 2019, spurring him to start a program "converting grief and sadness into courage and optimism and we hope to see it spread from restaurant to restaurant, city to city and industry to industry." igotyourback.info

CHOW

Colorado-based CHOW is an organization of culinary and hospitality staff working to nourish their lives inside and outside of the kitchen. Per the group's mission statement, "We believe in a future where our community never loses another person to addiction, suicide or mental illness again. And it starts with talking." CHOW offers free in-person and Zoom meetings for mental health and sobriety discussion. chowco.org

Restaurant After Hours

Restaurant After Hours was conceived to begin to fix the tangibles hospitality workers face outside of the restaurant business model. With a median salary of just $29,000 in New York City, most hospitality employees can not afford insurance, let alone counseling for themselves. The group provides valuable information to those employees who need it, including downloadable graphics, links to helplines and services, and a mental health survey that will help the group further define the resources needed to support the industry. restaurantafterhours.org

The Giving Kitchen

QPR, the CPR of suicide prevention training, is a simple one-hour course that prepares you to support a teammate contemplating suicide. The Giving Kitchen has partnered with QPR Institute to provide suicide prevention training for free for every restaurant in the United States. thegivingkitchen.com/qpr

Chefs With Issues

Full disclosure: I started this resource in 2016 in response to the lack of mental health resources and community for hospitality workers. The Facebook group of more than 52000 members is a safe and nonjudgmental community space to talk through the issues the industry faces and find common ground. facebook.com/groups/chefswithissues

A Balanced Glass

Rebecca Hopkins, who works in the wine trade, began to notice that the constant travel, consumption, revelry, and excess were taking an unspoken toll on the wellbeing of her colleagues across the industry, She and journalist and yoga instructor Cathy Huyghe, founded A Balanced Glass—a global community that helps people in the wine business seek a healthier way forward, together. abalancedglass.com

Healthy Pour

Healthy Pour, founded by Laura Louise Green is an organization that provides consultation and education to bars, restaurants, hotels, brands, non-profit organizations, and mental health therapists regarding the mental health and support of individuals working in and around the hospitality industry. healthypour.org

Healthy Hospo

Healthy Hospo is a not-for-profit community interest company with the dream of building a healthier, happier and more sustainable hospitality industry. They provide information, advice, support, and training on mental and physical health and how to thrive for all those in the hospitality industry, from both health and wellness experts and those who have dedicated their lives to hospitality. healthyhospo.com

Open Path Psychotherapy Collective

Open Path is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing in-office mental health care—at a steeply reduced rate—to individuals, couples, children, and families in need. openpathcollective.org

Needy Meds

The clinics in non-profit Needy Meds' database offer medical services (some may also offer dental, mental health, or substance addiction services) and are free, low-cost, low-cost with a sliding scale based on income, or offer some type of financial assistance. needymeds.org

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