A helping hand: Mental health in the hospitality industry

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

07 May 2018

All the figures suggest that stress, depression and anxiety are major issues for the on-trade. Fortunately, says Laura Foster, there’s no need to suffer in silence

Ah, modern life. It’s so much fun, right? With all those screens, never-sleeping social media channels and constant depressing news updates. Then there’s the high-tempo pressure of working in hospitality, where you’re in dark environments, working late, with loud music hammering into your brain for hours. It’s no wonder so many people in the industry are starting to talk about their experiences of depression and anxiety.

Sustainability of health has always been an issue in the hospitality industry. And, with increasing numbers announcing they have mental health issues, this is a frontline topic that needs addressing urgently – by both individuals and employers. Thankfully, a number of organisations recognise this and are taking action to help.

The Benevolent
Industry charity The Benevolent recently found that there has been a significant move away from hospitality workers contacting the organisation for financial support, towards those looking for help with mental-health issues. It consequently launched a telephone helpline in October in partnership with Connect Assist.

Dealing with depression
Hospitality Action’s Mark Lewis shares some tips:

Spend at least 20 minutes outside every day, preferably in the morning as this increases melatonin production, which can help regulate sleep.

Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Avoid too much alcohol or reliance on other drugs.

Exercise. It releases endorphins, the hormone associated with positive moods.

Remain connected. Even having just one person that you can talk to will help. Choose someone who is supportive and try to avoid those who may be critical.

Consider talking therapies.

Set goals. Depending on how severe your depression is this might include ensuring that you have a healthy breakfast, meeting a friend, or doing something that you feel passionate about. Each time you achieve a goal allow yourself to recognise that you have accomplished something.

Your GP can be an important source of support, and if you feel you may be depressed – especially if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts – then you need to talk to them.

‘We were finding that about half of the contacts being made to us were from drinks-company employees or past employees, who were encountering a variety of mental-wellbeing difficulties caused by bereavement, debt, work stress, redundancy or work-employment issues, home and family issues, and problems with life in general,’ explains David Cox, the recently retired CEO of The Benevolent. ‘Hence, we decided to set up our own confidential telephone helpline, manned by professional counsellors.

‘The helpline is open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm, and the system gives access to a programme of professional telephone counselling sessions and, if necessary, face-to-face counselling sessions.’
The charity has also just launched its #NotAlone campaign in an attempt to encourage people in the trade to speak up about their mental-health issues.

‘We plan to develop a programme encouraging employers, large and small, to appoint ‘mental-health first aiders’ within their companies, just as they would with fire officers, or health and safety officers,’ says Cox. ‘These volunteers would watch out for signs of co-workers looking or appearing stressed, or in need of help, and direct them to The Benevolent.’
thebenevolent.org.uk, 0800 915 4610

Healthy Hospo
Bartender and former Bulleit brand ambassador Tim Etherington-Judge came up with the idea for not-for-profit organisation Healthy Hospo following a breakdown that saw him diagnosed with severe unipolar depression. He teamed up with St-Germain brand ambassador and yogi Camille Ralph Vidal and nutritionist Matt Gardner to provide support and advice for hospitality workers through its website, social-media channels and events.

With personal stories and practical information on the website, it’s in its early days, but is shaping up to be a great resource.

‘One of the most effective ways of improving the health of the industry is for business owners to create healthier working environments,’ says Etherington-Judge. ‘At Healthy Hospo we’re working on building strategies for businesses that can help improve the health and wellness of their employees to help increase productivity, improve hospitality standards and customer feedback, while reducing days lost to illness – something that costs the industry millions of pounds a year.

‘I’m extremely positive that we can work towards building a healthier, happier and more sustainable industry if we all – individuals, employers, brands and media – work towards this goal.’ healthyhospo.com

Hospitality Action
‘In the lead up to last Christmas, Hospitality Action found that pageviews for the fact sheets focusing on anxiety, addiction, stress and depression made up 58% of the top 20 fact sheets viewed on our website,’ says Mark Lewis, CEO of the industry charity.

‘Counselling referrals have continued to increase over the past few years. [We helped] 122 people this way in 2015, 143 in 2016, and 183 in 2017. Therefore, 2016 was 17% up on 2015, and 2017 was 28% up on 2016.’

Hospitality Action’s Employee Assistance Programme was set up in 2013 to provide round-the-clock support and advice for employees of hospitality companies that subscribe to the service – something that can be particularly helpful for businesses struggling to provide adequate support due to a lack of infrastructure or facilities.
hospitalityaction.org.uk, 0808 802 0282 (24-hour helpline)

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