Fixing mental health culture in the kitchen

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Pressures of the hospitality industry can prompt social isolation, alcohol and drug abuse, and depression – but a new campaign is aiming to encourage conversation and improve workers’ mental health.

The White Jacket Effect campaign was founded by Sydney chef Amber Kaba after her friend, and chef mentor, died by suicide. The campaign aims toopen up dialogue about mental health, in addition to introducing valuable resources and support services to those working in the hospitality industry.

A White Jacket Effect workshop will be held in Canberra on Monday 22 July with a number of local speakers, including Fox & Bow owner, Alex Piris, and Nourish director, Vanessa Scanes.

The duo said the death of Anthony Bourdain by suicide got them thinking about the issues in the industry – such as long hours, constant pressure, and social isolation due to unsociable hours. Ms Scanes, who has been in the industry for 25 years, said being female also has additional challenges.

“There are a lot of issues that affect women in the sense they are dealing often with sexism, sexual harassment … and they don’t feel that they have the power to speak out,” Ms Scanes said.

“I’ve made it my work to make changes in the industry … I’ve always been the firefighter or the handbrake shutting down bad behaviour.”

When it comes to improving the situation in the hospitality sector, Ms Scanes said changes to curriculum could be one option. She suggested the introduction of a course on self-care and mindfulness, as well as mental health first aid training and, further still, leadership and management skills.

Ideally, Ms Scanes said they would like to see an industry specific body that could represent hospitality for mental health and wellness tune-ups similar to the OzHelp model.

However, Mr Piris acknowledged “it is not an easy fix”.

“The same things that create challenges for us are the same things that make it (hospitality) unique and bring us a lot of joy as well.”

Visit whitejacketeffect.com.au for more information. If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

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