Mental Health Hazards of the Restaurant World

Katy McLaughlin and Natalia V. Osipova have published an illuminating multimedia piece in the Wall Street Journal about the serious mental health hazards of working in the pressure-cooker restaurant trade.

journal-suicide

The article features Charles Ford, the general manager of a high-end restaurant in Chicago, who was shaken to action following the suicide last June of industry icon and former chef Anthony Bourdain.

Ford said that restaurant workers with suicidal impulses and other emotional crises often hide their pain, and revealed that he had slashed his wrists on three occasions between late 2015 and spring 2016. “I don’t want to hide it anymore,” Ford, 31, told the Journal. “We need to do everything we can to turn this around, and the first step is saying it out loud.”

The story quotes celebrity chef Cat Cora (“Iron Chef”) saying: “We are dealing with an epidemic of mental illness in our industry.”

A few highlights from the article:

The brutal nature of restaurant-kitchen culture is part of the problem, many in the industry say. Physical and emotional toughness is prized and workplace conventions like 40-hour workweeks, breaks and professional courtesy can be foreign concepts. At the same time, young people raised watching “Top Chef” and Food Network now enter the profession with high expectations—and debt loads—once rare in this largely blue-collar field. …

The food industry often draws non-conformist, Type-A perfectionists attracted to the unusual hours and the camaraderie of a kitchen crew… However, that spirit can lead to an unhealthy partying lifestyle. …

Young cooks’ heightened expectations don’t always take into account low wages or difficult labor… Dreams of fame and fortune have driven growth in culinary schools and programs and encouraged thousands of students to finance this education with debt. …

Restaurant cooks make a median wage of $12.10 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Culinary-school graduates are no exception, even at top-tier restaurants in expensive cities, a number of restaurateurs say. While some top chefs can earn six figures, the median annual wage for chefs and head cooks is $45,950, according to the BLS. …

The industry’s long hours, intense work, high stress and scarcity of employer-subsidized health insurance are all classic contributors to mental and behavioral health problems, says David Ballard, the head of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence. …

The article notes how trade groups to individual restaurateurs alike have launched efforts to support the mental health of restaurant workers:

—The owner of a Denver bakery co-founded a group called Culinary Hospitality Outreach & Wellness—CHOW, for short—which hosts weekly gatherings for industry members to talk about coping mechanisms and stress management.

—A restaurant owner co-founded Ben’s Friends, a group for restaurant workers to discuss substance abuse, with chapters around the country and named after a chef who died by suicide.

—The National Restaurant Association started a health plan in partnership with UnitedHealthcare that offers medical and mental health coverage.

—The American Culinary Federation started a group health insurance program for members for the first time this year.

—Unilever Food Solutions started FairKitchens, an initiative aimed at changing the culture that includes a code of conduct for restaurants to sign onto.

Thank You, Cornell Student Mental Health Champions

The Sophie Fund organizes an annual “Cupcake Button Campaign” each fall to support local mental health organizations. College students fan out across campus and the wider community soliciting donations and awarding generous souls with buttons depicting a colorful cupcake. The campaign is a run-up to the annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest, held in the Commons in mid-October.

IMG_4518

“Cupcake a Cornellian”

Students from Cornell University outdid themselves this year: they collected some 300 donations totaling $1,367.50, smashing last year’s record of $829.50 that went to the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service.

The 2018 goal was to raise monies for the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, a nonprofit advocacy and service organization that runs critical training and education programs as well as community social events. The Sophie Fund will present the Cupcake Button Campaign donations to the Mental Health Association at a ceremony in January.

The student groups behind this year’s fundraising included Cornell Minds Matter (CMM), Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter (APO), Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health), and the Mortar Board Der Hexenkreis Senior Honor Society.

A highlight of the campaign: “Cupcake a Cornellian,” an event held in Cornell’s Arts Quad on October 12 in which students made donations in exchange for the opportunity to mash a gooey cupcake (or just a heaping plate of whipped cream) into the face of a student leader.

APO President Winnie Ho praised the Cornell organizations and spoke about how the campaign raised awareness as well as money:

“Every penny of our fundraising total this year was due to the hard work of volunteers who engaged students and community members at Ho Plaza, the Arts Quad, and at the Collegetown GreenStar Natural Foods location. Beyond the impressive totals, the conversations that were fostered continue to be the most valuable experience of each year’s fundraising.

“Donors leave more than a monetary contribution—oftentimes, they leave us with their thoughts, experiences, and hopes for what mental health will look like in our society. Everyone from fellow students who ask how to get involved, to former and current practitioners who share both grim and hopeful stories in the workplace, have stopped and allowed for genuine interactions that are crucial in our fight to de-stigmatize conversations around mental health. While there are many battles left to have around mental health, there are so many people committed to this fight.”

One of the tactics in the fight, noted Chelsea Kiely, CMM vice president for events and co-chair of Cornell’s 2018 Mental Health Awareness Week, is getting mental health out in the open.

“The turnout for ‘Cupcake a Cornellian’ was incredible, and was so much fun all around,” she said, adding: “I especially enjoyed cupcaking Matt Jirsa, the co-president of Cornell Minds Matter.”

This Thanksgiving, The Sophie Fund thanks our community’s student mental health champions.

 

IMG_4248 copyIMG_3744 copy

Winnie Ho, cupcaked

 

IMG_4521

Matt Jirsa, after a colorful cupcaking

 

IMG_4286 copy

Winnie Ho and Matt Jirsa, survivors of “Cupcake a Cornellian”

 

43877948_251514935556159_5741818044309569536_n

43717985_344761076069087_8442518528283639808_n

43654293_2201287130159206_3708834105547292672_n

43607041_2099695080294815_7904262729848848384_n

Photos courtesy of Winnie Ho and Matt Jirsa

A Plan to Manage My College Mental Health

Last semester was the definition of rough. I faced consistent academic, social, and personal obstacles that I wasn’t at all prepared for. And the crazy part is, these stressors don’t even take into account the issues that I faced as a member of the Ithaca and Cornell University communities.

amber

Amber Haywood, chair of the Mental Health Summit at Cornell University

From the rumors of a potential school shooter on campus to an unfortunate death of a fellow student on graduation weekend, there was a lot to handle as a freshman. All these incidents took a toll mentally.

To cope with the chaos, I incorporated some mental health strategies into my life; and while some worked well, others ended up hurting me in the long run. Here are few of the methods that worked well for me:

  • Exercise! My personal favorites are group fitness classes (try spinning!). While I’m not always excited to work out, I learned that exercising indeed releases endorphins, which reduces your perception of pain and triggers a positive feeling in the body.
  • Social Media Cleanse! After not having access to wifi or phone service for a portion of winter break, I realized how much time I spent on social media. The time that I was on social media could easily have been devoted to something more important and useful to me. Not to mention, that by spending so much time on social media, I was comparing myself to students, friends, and people I didn’t even know that well. All these toxic thoughts of comparison were weighing on me more than I even realized. After deleting social media completely, I found that I was able to concentrate more time on homework and, consequently, saw my academics improve significantly. I realize that this is a difficult task for some, so an easier alternative is to limit yourself to a singular social media platform, or to limit the amount of time you spend on social media (e.g. only giving yourself two hours a day on it, or not checking social media an hour before you go to sleep/after you wake up).
  • Schedule “Me” Time! Blocking out specific times for relaxing, Netflixing, reading for pleasure, etc. Scheduling time in for self care helps make you more accountable for actually practicing regular self care! I personally block out an hour, normally when I know I get tired. Trying out different times and knowing your body rhythm will help when you feel yourself running low on energy!
  • Getting Away From Campus! This may be the hardest one physically and financially, but for me, it’s the most rewarding. Seeing new sites and being in a different setting has renewing effects on the mind. This can be catching a fan bus to a football game in Philly, taking a road trip to the nearest Chick-fil-A or even finding a new hiking trail around Ithaca!

I’ve developed many techniques for improving mental health due to my involvement in Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.), a Cornell student organization. Come share your mental health practices, while learning from others, at B.O.S.S.’s annual Mental Health Summit taking place at Cornell from November 9–11. The summit is free and open to any self-identifying womyn of color.

The keynote address is by Dior Vargas, the Latina feminist mental health activist and creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project. Workshops will tackle subjects including relationships, depression, body image, and communicating with professionals and family about mental health issues.

Click here for more information about the summit and how to register. Click here for more information about the summit and how to register.

–By Amber Haywood

Amber Haywood ’21 is the chair of the Mental Health Summit hosted by Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.) at Cornell University from November 9–11

Send Silence Packing @ Ithaca College

Backpacks were scattered all over Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites on Monday. No, this high-traffic space wasn’t a convenient dumping ground for students taking mid-terms or heading to the cafeteria for a meal. The backpacks were a powerful exhibition called “Send Silence Packing,” a suicide prevention initiative traveling to American college campuses. The 1,100 backpacks represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year.

44964319_2323980457630519_1966515046364217344_n

“Send Silence Packing” is a project of Active Minds, a national organization promoting student mental health through branch chapters at colleges around the county. Ithaca College’s chapter, led by co-presidents Zoe Howland and Mikaela Vojnik, hosted Monday’s exhibition in Emerson Suites.

The display is immersive and thought provoking. Each backpack includes a personal story or a quote from someone who has lost a loved to suicide. “I feel like the visual display really invokes a certain feeling that just talking about it doesn’t necessarily do,” Howland said.

44959223_2665498473674363_4124208170929225728_n

“There were a lot of people who came through on the way to their classes and were really intrigued with all the stories that were on the backpacks,” said Active Minds member Kristin Butler. She said that the event was an opportunity for “continuing the conversation on campus, which is great.”

Junior anthropology major Paige Twinning commented: “Powerful and important. The visual representation and personal profiles of individuals really made an impact.”

45102548_898572333681471_611975192628953088_n

“Send Silence Packing,” which has visited almost 200 campuses and reached nearly a million people, is intended to generate discussions about suicide and provide information about suicide prevention resources.

Ithaca College’s day-long event, sponsored in part by The Sophie Fund, began at 7:30 a.m. and included an evening Speak Your Mind panel discussion on suicide prevention moderated by Active Minds member Kelly Madden. Participating in the panel were representatives from key local mental health organizations, including the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes, and the Advocacy Center. Said Kaylee McGillicuddy, a sophomore psychology major: “It’s just nice to know there are people who care.”

45069613_582378898848560_6178678632777515008_n

Based on surveys, the Active Minds national organization reports that most people attending the “Send Silence Packing” installation are left wanting to know more about mental health, and 95 percent of attendees rate the experience as powerful.

Active Minds has chapters or other operations on more than 600 college campuses across the country. In June, a study of Active Minds published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that student peer organizations’ activities can improve college student mental health attitudes and perceived knowledge and significantly increase helping behaviors.

44991699_385063475563631_5424504748084559872_n

44958937_2467365016637500_1380072695575609344_n

44997165_801098956901680_7953243443130531840_n

The Fall 2015 National College Health Assessment, in a survey of 19,861 students at more than 40 American schools, reported that 35.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

According to the 2017 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, data collected from 147 college counseling centers showed that 34.2 percent of 161,014 college students seeking counseling in the 2016–17 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” The rate increased for the seventh year in a row, up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. The data also showed that 10 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

—By Margaret McKinnis

Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

New Voice for Mental Health

Greetings and welcome to Tiffanie Chai, a new contributor to the Ithaca Voice, whose bi-weekly column “Within the Bell Jar,” discusses mental health, mental illness, and disabilities. She gives us a taste of what’s to come in her first piece this week, promising “a fresh take on mental health.”

Picture-Tiff-620x420

Tiffanie Chai (credit: Ithaca Voice)

Chai is wary of reliance on top-down approaches to mental health, arguing that initiatives by institutions to “raise mental health awareness” largely do so in a way that is attractive to their audiences and end up failing to combat structural stigma. So Chai is a breed of mental health advocate who fights the stigma by empowering people experiencing mental health struggles to tell their stories and to thus educate the rest of us.

An excerpt from Chai’s first column:

I do understand why the intricacies of mental illness can be difficult to comprehend for individuals who aren’t familiar with these issues. We are so used to equating disease with physically observable symptoms that the idea of certain disorders exhibiting themselves as behavioral changes can be hard to digest. However, most people will never feel comfortable bringing up their mental health issues regardless of how many times they’re told that “it’s time to talk about mental health.”

I want to paint the painfully raw stories possessed by people who are mentally ill as realistically as possible—the ones kept from the public eye because they’d make others feel uncomfortable. Good. I want you to be. It means you’re learning. As my twin flame Sylvia Plath once wrote, “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”