It’s OK not to be OK

When high profile celebrities like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge start speaking out about mental health, you know that something is happening: It can no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored. It is now ‘OK to not be OK’. Yet, awareness still has a long way to go–especially within the food industry.

Restaurants and hospitality

Owning a restaurant, café, setting up a food business or working in hospitality are among the most popular options for anyone seeking business opportunities. It is also the most common employment sector, employing over 1.75m people.

Such prominence comes with a price–it can seriously damage your health. Numerous food sector and hospitality workers suffer serious mental health problems due to their work.

A survey of London chefs undertaken by the Unite Union discovered that over half of their workerswere suffering fromdepression due to overwork, whilst in Scotland a survey by ScotHot revealed that 57% of those questioned were experiencing mental health problems within the workplace. It is not simply depression that results, some people are committing suicide.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new in such figures. The food & hospitality sector has become inextricably linked to stressful lifestyles. Serving customers can be extremely traumatic, while long hours, low pay, screaming, swearing and bullying are commonplace. ‘No shows’ are all too common, resulting in lost revenue.

Staff can experience all types of mental and physical harassment, no matter whether they working a fast food outlet, a high-quality hotel or any other food business. To make matters worse, the high-pressured environment of the food and hospitality sectors means that it is easy for problems to escalate out of control. Working under pressure to get meals out on time can easily lead to cutting corners when it comes to hygiene or food preparation.

Food standards drop, resulting in fewer customers, bad publicity and financial problems, decreasing staff morale and ultimately having a major impact on the personal lives of all concerned: Staff begin to dread coming to work; losing confidence in themselves, thus making it harder to find other jobs. It becomes a vicious circle.

Thankfully, the increasing publicity about mental health concerns is beginning to have an impact. Attempts are being made to provide help and assistance throughout the industry. Hospitality Action is one such organisation: Since 2013, it has been operating a holistic based approach to employee welfare, known as the Employee Assistance programme.

This programme allows employers to offer a comprehensive care package, which includes personal counselling, legal guidance, financial well being services and immediate access to specialist advice. Over 250 leading food companies, including Connect Catering, Floodtide and Dine Catering, are already participating, and it is proving to be popular with staff, which appreciates being able to seek help when necessary.

A very different approach has been taken by PX+, which is offering a combination of wellness festival, and a telephone helpline. The first PX+Festival was held at a farm near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire in 2018. It proved to be immensely successful, attracting large numbers of people from throughout the hospitality and food industries. It works on the simple principle of providing somewhere where participants can gather, network with other chefs, food and hospitality businesses in a relaxing environment and take part in hands on workshops.

At the same time, there is a quiet area known as Listens where counselors are available to discuss problems, and a wide range of relaxation and stress reduction techniques can be accessed. “At PX+ Festival 2018, one of the most talked about issues was the lack of help and support for those that need it. It is hardly surprising, we all suffer from stress and anxiety; it’s a common side effect of the industry. What is missing is support, not just for those in immediate need, but also those that require specific help or guidance.

We need to step up and help each other, “commented Festival director Katie Bone. PX+ is now becoming an annual affair, with tickets selling out quickly. It has also extended its activities to create an all year round service known as PX+Listens. This is available online After registering on line, you can set up a free 20 minute conversation to talk through problems with counselors who are familiar with the problems being experienced in the industry, and find out where to go for more help.

Simply discovering that they are not alone when it comes to experiencing stress and mental health problems can result in an instant personal improvement. It is, after all, all too easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and personal problems and feel there is no one who understands what you are going through. Other new initiatives include Hospitality Speaks–a website designed to create a safe place for employees to share experiences, highlighting good practices and identifying resources that can help when problems occur. The Pilot Light project aims to support people suffering from mental health problems within the hospitality and restaurant sector. provides access to workshops designed to educate people in stress reduction techniques, mindfulness and mental health awareness. Providing suitable training for managers can also make a difference. Recent research by Hospitality Action discovered that only 17% of managers had been offered mental health awareness and/or stress and resilience training.

By receiving training to become Mental First Aiders managers are enabled to provide better staff support, creating a more open work environment, thereby reducing stress and helping to build a more resilient, successful company.

Many of the answers to dealing with problems of mental health and stress within the food/hospitality sector are clearly present. It is up to companies and individuals to take advantage of those opportunities and seek help whenever necessary: By dealing with problems and stressful situations quickly, everyone will benefit. Adopting a stiff upper lip and hiding problems is no longer necessary: It is“OK not to be OK!”

By Angela Youngman

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