The Food & Wine Pro Guide to Mental Health and Sobriety Resources
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, in the course of a few days, everything changed. Governmental measures that have been enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19 have forced restaurants to adapt quickly. Depending on the state and region, bars that don't serve food have been ordered to close, and countless restaurants have quickly pivoted to offering delivery and curbside pickup only to avoid further transmission of the virus. Hundreds of thousands of restaurant and bar employees have lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently, many of whom don't qualify for unemployment benefits (if they can even get through on the phone).There is no end in sight, and the future of the restaurant industry is a vast unknown.
There is no one who is not hurting and scared right now, and this collective emotional crisis may fall 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 are in crisis right now. Even if they're 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 can't creep in. As restaurateur and Ben's Friends founder Steve Palmer mentioned on a recent Communal Table podcast, isolation is the enemy of sobriety and mental health—but just because people can't physically be together doesn't mean that they can't have community.
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, he urges people to connect however they can—texts, phone calls, video chats, DMs, emails, and the kinds of recovery meetings that Ben's Friends is conducting via Zoom. 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 if things seem futile right now.
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: Everyone wants to help right now, and everyone needs help right now. It doesn't matter if they seem perfectly fine today, they will need you down the line, because this crisis is affecting 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. I had the privilege of talking to my therapist over the phone last week, and she 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 weeks as the reality of this has set in, and the frustration and fear is palpable. There are no answers about how this will all unfold, and while we can all advocate and fight for community and federal relief, we're removed from our regular lives. For restaurant workers who have 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 are stretching out ahead and causing them to question who they are 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 has shut down, you are still that person with those skills and that experience. When the restaurant industry rebuilds—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. For now, pull on those kitchen pants or that apron, fire up the sound of a printer, mise out your lunch, say "Hot behind!" to your cat, and remember who you are. Then reach out to a friend and serve them, too.
Here are some resources for you or to share with someone you care about. We'll be adding more as we this situation develops.
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
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255 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
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. bensfriendshope.com
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
Through a partnership with Mental Health America of Greater Houston and the University of Houston, Southern Smoke provides free mental healthcare to anyone in the food and beverage industry—and their children—in the state of Texas, and they are working to grow this program to include every state. The group also offers emergency grants to hospitality workers in need. southernsmoke.org/mental-health-services
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 is providing free meals to local hospitality workers who have been affected by coronavirus, and offer free 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 starting in January, the group will launch an online therapy program. 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.org
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 nearly 4000 members is a safe and nonjudgmental community space to talk through the issues the industry faces and find common ground. facebook.com/groups/chefswithissues
Personal Mise en Place
Hospitality veteran Paul Finn developed this personal mise en place method as a daily system of tracking his own behavior and routines. Inspired by the classic kitchen system of "mise-en-place," it takes the concept of "everything in its place" and applies it to emotional and mental health. He says, "By taking an honest look at your own daily rituals, you can learn to identify patterns, allowing you to clear out non-productive items that are in your mise and replace them with more efficient and productive routines." personalmise.com
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, 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. They've compiled a list of free online resources for hospitality workers to use as they adapt to this unprecedented challenge. healthypour.org
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
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
National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI has developed these guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 specific stress and challenges. nami.org
Mental health app Shine in partnership with Mental Health America has compiled resources for coping with anxiety and your mental health in a global climate of uncertainty. virusanxiety.com
-Apps With Free Content
Headspace offers free meditation content both via the app and online. headspace.com
Insight Timer is a favorite of many people in the culinary industry, and provides thousands of guided and non-guided meditations. insighttimer.com