Anthony Bourdain: “The Sheer Weirdness of the Kitchen Life”

Anthony Bourdain was a character much loved by chefs, servers, and bartenders everywhere. This was no less the case in Ithaca, a small town with a large appetite for life—and life’s culinary pleasures. Thus, Bourdain’s death by suicide is very hard to comprehend and absorb. To The Sophie Fund’s dear friends in the kitchens and dining rooms of Ithaca: please take the time to care for yourself and show extra kindness to friends and colleagues.


The Sophie Fund is proud to sponsor training in Mental Health First Aid, which gives us tools for supporting ourselves and others when we may be experiencing a mental health crisis. If you or your establishment would like to participate in a training, please contact us at

Anthony Bourdain put it well, in a poignant reminder of why we need to look after each other in the food and drink business:

“I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.” (The New Yorker)

A wonderful talk with Bourdain about his life in the kitchen, on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2016:


Photo Credit: Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown (Facebook)

The Joys of Mental Health First Aid

Don’t you love the smiles on these faces? The Sophie Fund does.

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The Class of April 16, 2018

This is a group of owners, managers, and workers from Ithaca’s restaurants, bars, and cafes taking a one-day course in Mental Health First Aid on April 16. They’re smiling because they had great fun, learned valuable skills, and became more confident in their abilities to support a family member, friend, colleague, or stranger experiencing a mental health crisis. Oh, and they also received official certification as Mental Health First Aiders.

The training was conducted by Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. It was sponsored by a grant from The Sophie Fund to offer free training for the dedicated men and women of Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene—where thin margins, long hours, erratic schedules, and high pressures can be the routine. The 15 trainees in the session are employed by Gimme! Coffee, Argos Inn, The Watershed, Temple of Zeus, Manndible Cafe, and other enterprises.

“With the stigma around mental illness, and given the hectic lives we lead today, it’s easy for somebody not to immediately seek the mental health support they need, or for people around them not to recognize signs that a crisis is brewing,” said Scott MacLeod, a founder of The Sophie Fund. “We aim to see Mental Health First Aid become the norm across the public and private sectors in Tompkins County. We would like to see every government agency, educational institution, and major business providing training opportunities—and in some cases, mandated training—for their managers and staff.”


In training at the Tompkins County Public Library

Developed in Australia in 2000, the National Council for Behavioral Health brought Mental Health First Aid to the United States in 2008. Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid is not about diagnosing or treating ailments, but rather giving immediate initial assistance until professional mental health support can be provided.

In the one-day Mental Health First Aid course, trainees learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental disorders and substance use concerns, strategies for assisting people in crisis and non-crisis situations, and how to get professional help.


Practicing Mental Health First Aid skills

In the United States, the “movement” boasts a million Mental Health First Aiders—and millions more are needed. The country is going through an epidemic of mental health disorders. The national suicide rate increased 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses; 2.1 million Americans had an opioid use disorder. An estimated 43.6 million American adults are living with a psychiatric illness and another 16.3 million have an alcohol use disorder.

The 2016 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health said collected data from 139 college counseling centers showed that 33.2 percent of 150,483 college students seeking counseling in the 2015-16 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” That was a marked increase from 23.8 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. About 1,100 college students annually take their own lives.

“As someone who has battled both depression and anxiety personally, and has family members who battle alcoholism, this is a very important topic to me,” said Emily Guenther, one of the April 16 trainees. “It was nice to come to a class where I felt like people understood the difficulties and hardships that are faced daily when dealing with mental health issues. It was wonderful for me to finally get some tools that will be very useful for me moving forward!”

The sentiment was shared by many other trainees.

“The hospitality world often fosters an especially high-stress work environment and, as someone in a managerial position, I am very invested in the mental well-being of my crew, both day-to-day and long-term,” said Rob Hummel, the front desk manager of Argos Inn. “Certainly being concerned for others isn’t enough to be helpful, and the very specific identification and communication techniques presented at training gave me a proper, practical means of applying that concern when it’s needed. The attitude of care and compassion that Melanie and David encouraged as an integral part of mental health first aid is invaluable, both at work and in one’s own life.”

The Mental Health Association employs three certified trainers, and offers regular sessions open to the public and organizes private in-house trainings for companies and organizations.

“At the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, we are passionate about Mental Health First Aid as part of the delivery of our agency’s mission to create a citizen’s movement in support of our community’s mental health,” said trainer Melanie Little. “The further this information spreads, the more our area will be filled with individuals who are ready to provide support, compassion, understanding, and resources to our fellow community members who are struggling.”

Little explained that the training teaches compassion, listening skills, the types of mental health help that are available, and combats the stigma surrounding mental health that prevents so many individuals from accessing the help they need and deserve. In an eight-hour course, she said, the training includes discussions about complex and difficult topics, and gives participants ample time to practice their skills by applying them to a wide range of scenarios.



Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Mental Health First Aid not only serves humanity, it serves the bottom line, too. According to Mental Health First Aid USA, 40 percent of employees with a mental illness take up to 10 days off work a year because of it. Yet 35 percent of managers feel they have no formal support or resources to help their employees.

And, it’s kind of cool, or at least Lady Gaga thinks so: her Born This Way Foundation has helped train 150,000 people in Mental Health First Aid.

For more information or to schedule a training in Tompkins County, contact:

Melanie Little, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

For information about applying for a Mental Health First Aid training grant from The Sophie Fund, contact:

The Sophie Fund

To support The Sophie Fund’s grants for Mental Health First Aid training, click here to go to the Donate page.


Photos courtesy Yuko Jingu

Thrive, New York!

Thrive NYC is an $850 million initiative launched by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray that is a model for the way all communities across America can better address our growing mental health crisis. The core of the effort includes training 250,000 New Yorkers in Mental Health First Aid, which teaches people how to help friends, family members, and co-workers who may be suffering. A public awareness campaign called “Today I Thrive,” consisting of TV, newspaper, and subway ads and social media outreach in 11 languages is another part of the effort that aims to convince New Yorkers that seeking help is a sign of strength not weakness.


McCray, wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, discussed Thrive NYC in a Q&A with Shefali Luthra in Kaiser Health News published this week. McCray’s experience with mental illness is very personal: her parents as well as her daughter have struggled with depression.

Here’s an extract from the interview:


Kaiser Health News: What role can cities play in bolstering access to mental health care? Are there unique advantages they have?


McCray: Cities can lead because mayors are uniquely positioned in terms of being really close to the people. I attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors. And unlike governors, and unlike members of Congress, mayors are right there, dealing with the everyday struggles of people. They are more sensitive in terms of what people need, on a day-to-day level. Cities can actually mobilize different types of resources: community-based organizations and churches and synagogues and mosques. All of these different first responder type organizations are much more available. Mayors are much more plugged in.


Kaiser Health News: How do New York’s needs and plans compare with that of other cities?


McCray: In New York, we have everybody. We have a large LGBT community, we have the largest Jewish community. We are the United Nations of cities. Whatever we do in New York, if it can be done here, dealing with all of those questions of culture, religion, ethnicity—all of those things—then it can be done anywhere.


Kaiser Health News: One of the big problems regarding the mental health care system is its shortage of providers. In your plan for New York, you talk about how to build that supply and make it more diverse. 


McCray: We are not going to grow the workforce we need overnight. That is clear. But we can look at alternative methods, which have evidence-based proven ways to address the situation. We are doing that by training a quarter of a million New Yorkers in mental health first aid. We are working to raise the level of awareness, educate people, and sort of demystify mental illness and substance abuse so people can help their family members and friends. We are making sure that we actually are reaching into high-need communities, communities that don’t have professionals that look like them. I heard this over and over again, everywhere I went. “I want to talk to somebody who looks like me, who speaks my language, who understands my religion. And it doesn’t exist.” There are a lot of ideas that are burbling about, but this is one of our priorities.


Kaiser Health News: It sounds like one idea you are thinking of is more ‘midlevel’-type providers—someone who is not a psychiatrist but is more knowledgeable than my next-door neighbor.


McCray: When you think about our teachers, members of our clergy—they do this work, even though they may not be trained to. Some of them actually are somewhat trained — some of them have been social workers or doctors—but you don’t necessarily need that. You don’t need a psychiatrist to treat depression, which is the number one cause of disability now in our nation. You don’t need a psychiatrist to help someone with anxiety disorder, necessarily. All these diseases have a range from mild to severe. We are also thinking about training a new class of worker: a community mental health worker, who works with members of the community—whether it be through involvement in a community-based organization or at a church, et cetera—to screen for mental health needs and refer to help as needed. And there are models in other countries of people who do this work and are able to help folks who suffer from things like depression and anxiety.


Kaiser Health News: Might that address some of the diversity concerns you described?


McCray: Absolutely. Because they will come from the neighborhood and be trusted and understand how to talk to people in a way that is sensitive and understands the history and culture of the place.


Kaiser Health News: You have been able to line up nearly $1 billion to fund your initiative. Is that something other cities will need to do, too, in order to meet their mental health care needs?


McCray: Every city will not have that [level] of resources. But then again, every city is not as big as New York City, so they may not need that kind of money. And everything we are doing doesn’t require funding. Something like screening pregnant women and mothers for maternal depression is something that requires a new approach by doctors and pediatricians and OB/GYNs. It just requires them asking a series of questions. But we had to actually gather people together and say, “Look, we can have a huge impact on something that could have lifelong consequences for a child and a family, by just doing work a little differently.” It’s not a change in the funding. It’s just a change in the way they approach the conversation. We’re training our police officers in crisis intervention training. We’ve already saved lives. We’re making naloxone [which treats opioid overdose] available without a prescription. We’ve saved so many lives already with that. It really depends on the needs of the city.


Kaiser Health News: What do you hope to see moving forward?

McCray: The most important thing is changing the culture. We’ve already been taking great strides. It is change in the culture and ability to know there’s always someplace that a New Yorker can go to get help. No matter who you are as a New Yorker, it’s OK. Mental illness and substance abuse disorders are treatable. And, there’s somewhere to go. That’s what success looks like to me. Of course I want to do even more but if we do those things, I think that will be a huge sea change.


Thrive NYC says its initiative is guided by six key principles:

Change the Culture: Make mental health everybody’s business. It’s time for New Yorkers to have an open conversation about mental health.

Act Early: Give New Yorkers more tools to weather challenges and invest in prevention and early intervention.

Close Treatment Gaps: Provide New Yorkers in every neighborhood—including those at greatest risk—with equal access to care that works for them and their communities, when and where they need it.

Partner with Communities: Embrace the wisdom and strengths of local communities by collaborating with them to create effective and culturally competent solutions.

Use Data Better: Work with all stakeholders to address gaps, improve programs, and create a truly equitable and responsive mental health system by collecting, sharing, and using information and data better.

Strengthen Government’s Ability to Lead: Affirm City government’s responsibility to coordinate an unprecedented effort to support the mental health of all New Yorkers.

Read “Thrive NYC: A Roadmap for Mental Health for All,” and a progress report on the initiative, “Thrive NYC 150-Day Update.”