The state of things from a thirty something year old male chef.
To say I feel vulnerable would be an understatement. From the BBC food program to Chester Bennington, I am constantly placed in risk categories for suicide.
So I wanted to take a step back and try to build a picture of where we are with all this and whether we are really doing anything to make people happier and safer in this tricky, complicated world.
I want to start with talking about Chester Bennington. For those who don’t know who he is well he was the singer in a rock band called Linkin Park. Their biggest album was released when I was about 17.
Chester took his own life earlier this year. When I first typed out the last sentence I worded it as ‘committed suicide’. That term implies committing an offense. Am I alone in thinking that taking your own life is not an offense!? I get it in terms of life insurance claims but come on, I don’t think we should talk in terms of the law all the time.
His death hit me hard as I listen to his lyrics and can relate to them. The reason his suicide is a big deal is the fact that he has written lyrics for numerous albums over the past 20 years all talking about his weak mental health and crying out for help. He has given interview after interview about suicide awareness and even released a single just months before his death called ‘heavy’ which simply talks about how he cant cope anymore. He was openly in therapy, I would assume the best money can buy, but that wasn’t enough…
Does that not raise alarm bells?
Secondly there is in the media a lot of talk about mental health within the hospitality industry. Raising awareness for the dangers of chefs going into this industry is very important to me. The job is hard. I know no one is a big believer by that as unless you are in it you’d never know.
I feel I have some legitimacy in my opinion as I have worked in a high pressure, multi-million pound IT project environment which can be tough but not even in the same world. I do however appreciate when people don’t understand it, partly because it is always talked about in terms of alcohol and drug abuse.
The BBC food program portrayed it to me as the problem being that chefs cant cope with the balance of long days and then getting wasted all night. This quite obviously will create an unsympathetic attitude. It is often just a coping mechanism not a lifestyle choice. What about the chefs who cant handle the fact they don’t see their kids? Or those that put their heart into a job but fear for their jobs every day?
I do feel however that this kind of exposure in the media is still good for awareness.
Here is my issue, the awareness has done nothing to change anything. The only example I know of is a Michelin star chef hiring more staff so that they only have to work 4 day weeks. I really struggle to understand how that would help and even if it did then I struggle to see how a small business struggling with increasing staff and food costs would be able to operate anything like this.
So at present, this awareness could only be a good thing as an incentive for people to steer clear of the industry all together. Once in it, you simply have to accept that your mental health will be vulnerable. You might be strong enough to withstand it. Many people are, many chefs even thrive off it. Is this good enough in the 21st century?
My ultimate concern is this. If a chef in the industry at the moment develops depression, anxiety, stress or suicidal thoughts there future looks very difficult indeed. They go to the doctor. They will be signed off work, but at present that is the end of that job. Very few bosses will be understanding. A chef wont be sacked, of course, that’s illegal, but they will be gradually replaced. Now that’s not saying some bosses wouldnt be empathetic. I’d like to think I would be but the majority would be empathetic but still have to think about their business plan. This chef wouldn’t fit into this any longer. If a chef spoke about this within the kitchen, most would be mocked and laughed at. I have seen it. It is bullying. Can you imagine that? Try?
So the options are this at present. Go to the doctor. Be signed off. Accept that job is finished, so whilst trying to get better you need to be finding a new job. Sick pay I hear you say, £80 a week is it? The doctor can offer medication but that is it. Any talking therapies which can be good will cost at least £30 a week. That’s a lot of money to somebody in the hospitality industry as i’m sure we’re all aware how low the pay is.
I would love to be ending this post with an answer. I’m not. The conclusion is a little sad. I think it will get better, but for the moment, its bleak.
If you feel you fit into this category or you know somebody that does then there are charities out there to try and help. CALM is a charity looking at male suicide prevention.
Reach out, SHOUT about it, in time we might eventually then start to mold a world that works for all. Who knows.