Mental health initiative hopes to support hospitality industry workers

Those who have worked in the hospitality industry say there are many mental health challenges unique to the profession. PHOTO: ASAEL PEÑA/UNSPLASH

A team of mental health advocates is launching the Hospitality Healing Project to provide professional mental and physical health services to Calgary’s food and hospitality industry.

Co-founder Heesoo Cho says that many of the people involved in developing the new program have extensive experience in the hospitality industry.

“We saw an opportunity to provide additional support, resources, [and] an opportunity for services for those who work in space”.

Cho’s own career in the hospitality industry helped him recognize the pressures of working in that space.

“From the long hours to the inconsistent income to just being around substances all the time, in general, there is perhaps a lack of awareness and care about how these pressures affect you from a mental health standpoint.”

Cho notes that incidents like the loss of a close friend in the restaurant industry to suicide in 2019 solidified the importance of establishing the program.

“I know that many others in space have a similar story,” says Cho.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also magnified many problems already affecting workers in the industry.

“The expectations that are placed on these professionals are that they are expected to present themselves in a certain way with a certain energy, to ensure that their guests have a positive experience,” says Cho. “Sometimes sacrificing how you really feel or your mental bandwidth to do it.”

Cho co-founded the project because he felt there is a lack of awareness of how working in the hospitality industry can affect people. PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY HEESOO CHO

Cho has noted that the recent launch of the initiative has sparked significant interest in the hotel industry and he looks forward to seeing which aspects resonate with people the most. The project is collaborating with mental health and chronic pain service SABI Mind to offer free educational sessions and preferential rates for professional services to anyone in the Calgary hospitality industry.

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“If it’s just a general discussion of mental health that provides incremental positive impact on a person’s life, mission accomplished,” says Cho. “If it’s a person who is actually receiving therapy or counseling, then that’s also a positive impact that we hope to contribute to in people’s lives.”

Matthew Drummond, who works in the hospitality industry and attended a mental health initiative meeting, thinks the project is necessary.

“It provides a safe and familiar space for people who work in hospitality where we can share stories and connect on a level where we can express the same feelings,” says Drummond.

Drummond also says there are stressors that come with inconsistency in the business, noting that he has been laid off three times since the pandemic began.

“The stress behind not making money consistently, suddenly having to enforce all these rules that a lot of us feel we shouldn’t be the ones to enforce, really caused additional stress in the work environment and created a lot of hostility. between customers and staff, which was unfortunate, but that was the reality.”

Drummond adds that there are mental health challenges unique to the hospitality industry.

“I think it’s having to put on a show every time you’re working. A lot of people I know, myself included, deal with a lot of personal things, but when you get to work, you basically put on that mask and pretend that everything is fine, when most of the time it isn’t. .”

The initiative follows in the footsteps of non-profit organizations such as not 9 to 5, which has been successful in providing mental health training for the food service sector. Cho hopes that this project will also have a positive impact on the industry and give workers the support they need.

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“It’s about meeting the person where they are, hence the diversity of service options,” says Cho. “We hope to at least inspire a little bit of curiosity from individual mental health journeys, but also from an industry perspective.”

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