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Mental Health In Professional Kitchens: A Burning Issue

Improvements are being made thanks to some chefs leading the way.

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As Elodie Noël explains, in professional kitchens, like everywhere else, the issue of mental health needs to be addressed to improve the overall situation. 

Known as a tough world, where bad treatments, long working hours and an intense pace can drive you to the edge, the restaurant industry is working on improving the situation surrounding mental health, led by chefs who are being vocal about the issue and their own experience of mental struggle.

According to Dan Hannigan, Head Chef of Mister S and founder of Food for Thought, a series of pop-up fine dining events aiming to promote positive mental health within the industry and beyond, the situation is getting better. He told us, “People are beginning to understand that problems with people's mental health isn't a choice and it is as much an illness as something physically wrong with someone.”

READ MORE: Irish Chefs Remember Anthony Bourdain

Having spoken about mental health to many of his peers since starting Food For Thought, the young chef noted that they do understand the issue and want to help. “I think the industry as a whole is seeing that there's no need for the intense pressure and that restaurants can be run in a positive and progressive way without affecting standards,” he said. To make sure the situation keeps improving, Dan thinks that proper training should be provided for professionals. “3ts Ireland does an amazing safe talk training that helps people recognise signs in those who are suffering and trains people in how to deal with the situation effectively,” he adds.

Commended in the FOOD AND WINE Awards 2019 for Best Workplace, The Balloo Inns Group, Co. Down, has introduced a dedicated assistance programme for its 120 staff employed across its four restaurants. In association with Inspire Workplaces, it now offers 24-hour support and follow up face-to-face counselling to all full-time employees who may be struggling with stress, anxiety or any personal issues.

“We recognise the hospitality industry requires high levels of energy in a pressurised environment, both in the kitchen and front of house,” commented Ronan Sweeney, Balloo Inns Managing Director and owner, encouraging all staff to seek support during any difficult times. “We are striving to create the best working environment for each of our employees. All our employees play a significant part in the success of all our gastro-pubs and their wellbeing is a big priority for us,” he adds.

Having recently witnessed some great practice in acclaimed restaurants, Dan believes kitchens don’t have to be a hostile environment to reach the highest possible level. “I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few days in different restaurants this year while I was waiting for Mister S to open. I was in Chapter One, Liath, Peploe’s, Circa, Richmond and the way Eric [Matthews], Damien [Grey], Graeme [Dodrill], Gar [Naughton] and Davey [O'Byrne] treat and look after their staff is an inspiration for me because they don't let standards slip in any way but still manage to treat their staff with such respect. They make the people working so hard feel important and acknowledged and I know they aren't the only ones.” Ultimately, Dan hopes that these good practices can improve the image of the industry and make it an attractive career to pursue for young people.

If you're struggling with any issues mentioned in the above, there is help available: 

Samaritans Ireland; tel: 116 123
Aware; tel: 1800 80 48 48
Pieta House; tel: 1800 247 247 

Author: Élodie Nöel

Élodie is a French journalist who relocated to Dublin about three years ago. She immediately fell in love with the island and its amazing food and has been writing about it on her blog Lemon Lipstick. You can follow Élodie's food adventures on  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.