Mental health may be the issue of our age, but arguably it has always been an important factor in people’s decision to work in the hospitality industry.
Long and unsociable hours, irregular shift patterns that mess with our body clock and sleep patterns, constant exposure to the public and pressure to deliver can all make for a stressful life.
Of course, there are those who thrive under such conditions, preferring them to the predictability of nine-to five office work. For those who struggle, there are signs that some employers are now taking responsibility for the mental health of their staff.
The seriousness of the issue was highlighted this week with the publication of a study which showed that almost 60% of workers in the Scottish hospitality industry have experienced mental health problems at work.
The survey, by ScotHot, found that 57% of the 500 hospitality sector staff who took part, said they’d experienced mental health issues at work, including stress, depression and anxiety.
Some 41% of respondents reported that working in the industry had negatively affected their mental health.
Predictably, the three main causes of work-related stress were long hours, a lack of work-life balance and the demands of working in a high-pressure environment.
The issue received global attention last year when Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, hung himself at the age of just 61. The American-born Scotophile, who loved Glasgow, had well documented problems with drugs but following his death, his toxicology report was negative.
Friends and colleagues speculated that his years of working in high-pressure kitchens caused his depression which may have resulted in his death.
He is a high-profile example of a problem the industry has not always recognised. Last year The Caterer magazine sent a 10-question survey to hospitality workers asking about their experiences of mental health.
Of the respondents, 59% considered themselves to have a mental health problem at the time and 71% said they’d experienced a mental health problem at some point. Of those, some 51% had sought help or advice, but 56% said their employer was not aware of their mental health problem.
Asked if they believed a stigma surrounded mental health, almost three quarters said ‘yes’ - disappointing but lower than the 90% in a previous study in 2012.
There’s little doubt the industry could do more and a first step would be for employers to make clear to staff that opening-up about their mental health problems would be met with a sympathetic ear. Workers struggling in silence are unlikely to be getting the support they need, and this can make things worse.
Staff living with depression and anxiety can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but they need support. Those whose mental health problem meets the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – that it has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on normal day-to-day activities – need to tell their employer about it.
If you’re affected, you can find more information about options by visiting any of these websites:
Mental Health at Work www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk
Time to Change www.time-to-change.org.uk
Hospitality Action www.hospitalityaction.org.uk