Hospo Voice

Mental health in hospitality: It’s a serious problem, so how can we tackle it?

November 16, 2020

Are you a hospo worker and worried about your mental health? You’re not alone.

Did you know that 91% of hospo workers are worried about mental health in hospitality? It’s a pretty shocking statistic. That’s why we must talk about it and find solutions for improving mental health in hospitality.

Why is mental health in hospitality workers so bad?

We all know what an exciting industry hospo is. Many of us love the fast-paced, adrenaline-filled world. We get a real buzz from seeing the look of satisfaction when we serve an amazing meal to a customer.

But working in hospo comes with some real challenges. The long and irregular hours mean we can’t follow a ‘normal’ sleep routine, resulting in constant tiredness. We spend so long at work that it’s hard to maintain relationships with family and friends outside the industry. There’s a culture of using alcohol and drugs to cope with the pressure, which often compounds the problems.

Then to top it all off, we are working in a notoriously insecure industry. We’re scared of speaking up about our rights, like being paid fairly for the work we do. We suffer from financial stress and the constant fear of losing our shifts if we attempt to complain about our conditions.

When you consider all this, it’s not surprising mental health issues are up there for many of us, right?

Isn’t this the reality of working in hospo? Should we just suck it up?

No! According to chef and proud Hospo Voice activist James-Anthony Consiglio, it’s the attitude of ‘it’s just the hospo industry’ that’s part of the problem.

“We’re normalising the coping mechanisms that are counter-intuitive to good mental health. The hours of work, no social life, constant harassment, alcohol or substance abuse,” says James.

James spent part of 2019 hospitalised for mental health issues after the pressure of his industry got too much. He had lost touch with his family and was on a constant working/partying loop.

He said when he spoke to his psychiatrist, the advice he was given was to get out of the hospitality industry.

“Speaking to some other chefs and they said their psychs said the same thing. But it’s not the solution. We need to change the industry.”

How can we improve mental health in the restaurant industry?

It’s about respecting each other, the team and getting respect from customers.

If you respect your worker in every aspect, it’s going to be great. Respect is the key,” explained James.

James is co-leading Respect is the Rule for Hospo Voice, a campaign to make venues safe from sexual harassment. It asks venues and customers to take the pledge to help create safe and respectful environments for their staff. A Hospo Voice survey found that 89% of female hospo workers have been sexually harassed at work, it’s another reason why so many hospo workers experience poor mental health.

By encouraging your employer to get on board, it introduces a culture of respect in all areas of the workplace.

It’s the attitude of ‘it’s just the hospo industry’ that’s part of the problem.

James, Hospo Voice leader

Have better conversations

It’s not common to talk about mental health in the hospitality industry but that’s something we need to change. By creating a community of open conversation, we can reassure everyone that we’re there for them.

“Make sure at the end of the night there’s a debrief. Have an avenue for stress release so people can talk about what’s happened,” James advised.

Fight for change…together

If you’re thinking there’s not much you can do as an individual in your workplace, you’re not alone. Let’s be honest, one person in a casualised workforce is going to find it difficult to make any changes. Which is why we need to join together.

According to James, “There are so many chefs and other workers in my position that are being faced with all this. It’s about coming together and changing the industry because it is broken. It’s about collectivising because the only way we can make the change is together.

What can you do to improve your mental health right now?

Making changes to the industry will have an important impact on our mental health, but change takes time. So what can you do right now to help the way you’re feeling?

James said that for him, relying on his support network helped and talking to people he trusted. He also thinks it’s important to find other things to do outside work.

“At one point all I did was work and party… It’s about having another outlet outside of your work life. I like going to the farmer’s market, being outdoors, and walking.”

Some other tips include:

“It’s about collectivising because the only way we can make the change is together.”

James, Hospo Voice leader

Where else to go for support?

Lifeline – 13 11 14, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Lifeline Text 0477 131 114, operating 12pm – midnight (AEDT), 7 days a week

Lifeline webchat operating 7pm – midnight (AEDT), 7 nights a week

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636

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