By Chris O’Sullivan, head of business development and engagement at the Mental Health Foundation

> If you are reading this, then you’re probably aware of the mental health challenges that working in the hospitality industry can have. The hours are long – whether front of house, kitchen, supply or production.

In a survey last year from The Caterer magazine:

59% of respondents considered themselves to have a mental health problem at the moment and… 

71% had experienced a mental health problem at some point in their career.

51% had sought help or advice for it, but… of these,

56% said their employer was not aware of their mental health problem. 

These are stark results – suggesting that people in the industry are identifying mental health problems in themselves – but aren’t always in a position to speak out.

We all have mental health, and there are little things we can all do to protect and support our mental health and those around us.

Self-care can be very hard to put in place when we are facing times of intense work, or when we are running on passion and sweat. That’s exactly the time we need to look after ourselves the most. We know that shift-work can impact our sleep, and research from Unite in London has suggested that as many as a quarter of chefs rely on alcohol to get through their shifts. Good sleep and managing our drinking and drug use are two very important ways we can invest in our mental health. You can look up our ‘Ten Ways to Look After Your Mental Health’ for evidence-based tips.

If you have responsibility for managing staff, make sure you do what you need to create an environment where people can be open and achieve their best. This doesn’t have  to come at the cost of productivity and excellence – just look at Sat Bains and his work to promote work-life balance at his two-star restaurant.

Don’t give stigma a home

Support the Pilot Light Campaign (www. founded by Chef Andrew Clarke, who has started a wave of chefs speaking about their own experiences of distress. You can also sign up to support anti-stigma programmes like Time to Change in England and See Me in Scotland. It can be hard to recognise that someone is experiencing a mental health problem – people can feel a need to hide their feelings because they might feel ashamed  or  they may not even be aware of what is happening themselves.. If someone doesn’t seem themselves – particularly if you know they have stuff happening in their life – it’s good to check in and see how they are. You might notice that a colleague seems distracted, less able to concentrate or less able to deal with their workload. You might notice that someone is more angry or irritable then usual or that they’re isolating themselves or hiding away. Mental health can seem like a daunting subject to talk about, but we’ve all had conversations with colleagues and friends about bereavement, break-ups and other life events. We use the same skills to talk about mental health.

The most important thing you can do, if you have concerns, is ask. Make the time, ask open questions, and give your full attention. Have some information to hand in case the person needs to speak further – it’s good to put The Samaritans number (116 123) in your phone, so you can pass it on.