Kris explains how important it is to break the stigma of mental health within the hospitality industry.
“It has taken an increasing number of suicides of high-profile celebrities over the last few years to take a conversation, which, was usually whispered behind closed doors, and thrust it into the mainstream media. A needless loss of life which I often refer to as; a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
#bekind, the now immortal words posted by Caroline Flack before she took her own life back in December 2019. The event sparked mental health movements and messages of empathy across the globe of epic proportions and rightly so.
But, it may surprise you to know (as this news doesn’t feature heavily in tabloids) that suicide rates for men in England and Wales in 2019 were the highest for two decades according to figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS).
With figures standing at 5,691 or 16.9 deaths per 100,000 people and ¾ of which being men, with an increase in suicide rates for women under 25 and ,many will be surprised to know, that in the last few years suicide has been the biggest killer of men aged between the ages or 18 – 35 for the last few years beating heart disease and cancer.
The WHO estimated there were 800,000 people who died by suicide in 2018, equivalent to around 2,000 per day.
Please bear in mind these figures are before the worst pandemic to hit the world since Spanish Flu in World War I.
Now if you’ve gotten this far into this blog without being ‘turned off’ for it’s hard hitting topic or lack of flamboyance then it would be a good time to introduce myself and explain a little bit about the non-profit I founded back in May 2019 called The Burnt Chef Project.
My name is Kris Hall, I’m not extraordinary and I certainly don’t have the secret to life but I have experienced my own forms of mental illness and helped others through theirs.
My background is in sales and marketing. Namely, the last 9 years I have been working for various food wholesalers around the South supplying the best ingredients to some of the top restaurants from Bournemouth to Bath.
My career has seen me work closely with over 1000 chefs over the last 9 years and I’ve been lucky enough to experience the best, and the worst, of the creative and diverse industry I have fallen deeply in love with. So you are probably wondering why I started this blog with such a sombre tone?
Sex sells and discussing mental illness is not ‘sexy’.
Over the years of working in this trade I have met some of the most talented individuals I have ever known. I have also been startled by high levels of mental illness and stress which can often lead to burnout, high dependency on alcohol, drugs and caffeine with little time for seeing family and friends.
A study completed by The Burnt Chef Project back in May 2020 showed that out of 1273 respondents 4 out of 5 hospitality professionals had experienced at least one case of ill mental health as a result of their job during their lifetime. Compare this to the NHS who state that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime.
After seeing a good chef friend of mine quickly start to suffer the effects of physical and emotional burnout after completing another 80 hour week, I felt that it was my moral obligation and duty to give a voice to those who may be suffering from mental distress in hospitality, who haven’t been able to speak out against the stigma yet and ask for help.
In an industry dominated by smiles to customers and a ‘strength in silence’ mentality, I had my work cut-out for me.
The project started locally in Bournemouth in 2019 taking black and white photos of hospitality professionals to raise a bit of awareness and create a ‘buzz’ around the conversation. Little did I know back then but fast forward a year and a half that I would be opening conversations not just locally or nationally but internationally. Challenging the status quo with our custom ‘F**K STIGMA’ apparel in countries across the world such as Japan, South Africa, Canada, Australia and multiple states of America. Even being worn by GBBO winner Candice Brown as she gets papped walking her dog!
It’s all very well and good raising a bit of awareness but we wanted to do more so as a registered non-profit a proportion of the money raised from sales of apparel goes towards mental health training so that we can upskill hospitality staff across the world in becoming more aware of mental illness and it’s impact to individuals and the industry.
What can you do to manage your mental health during these tough times?
Whilst mental health issues may be more prevalent within the worldwide hospitality scene due to working conditions it certainly isn’t limited to this group, in fact everyone in this world is somewhere on the mental health spectrum somewhere. Sometimes it can be good, sometimes not so good, sometimes awful. Here are some top tips on how to improve your mental health both now and in future:
Meditate / Mindfulness
These tools have been around for centuries and studies have shown either of these to have amazing benefits to your mental health and wellbeing. They don’t always involve listening to Enya with that awkward crossed leg pose but even turning off your phone, sitting quietly and observing the sights, smells and touch of your surroundings for 5 minutes it a great place to start.
Studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes of exercise a day can lead to an improvement in both physical and mental health. You don’t have to be Mo Farah and run a marathon, a 20 minute walk to work or on your lunch break will suffice. Just get those arms and legs moving and open your lungs.
Did you know that the happy hormone serotonin is mostly found in your gut? 90% to be precise! Start a food diary for a week. Note what food you eat and how you feel about 4 – 6 hours later. You may notice that your mood, and energy takes a dip after heavy carb loaded meals compared to if you were to eat meals rich in vitamins B and D.
List your worries
Do you find your mind a little full of worries that circulate around and around? Keep a journal and write down your worries or concerns on paper. Sometimes simply listing them on paper helps remove them from your brain and allows you to refocus or rephrase them into more objective terms. Remember that scene from Harry Potter where they pull their memories out of their brain with a wand?
Getting to the point
Mental health can be, to the untrained eye, a difficult one to spot at times. I’m a firm believer that more needs to be done to provide a safer environment for discussions on this subject. Our aim is to normalise the conversation so that we can consider mental illness and physical illness as one.
You need not suffer in silence. If you are reading this and think that you may benefit from sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone but don’t know where to start then my advice would be to identify a trustworthy friend or family member who you can talk to without fear of judgment and begin to explain. Chances are they may understand and sharing helps!
We’ll see you soon.”