Chef calls for more help on mental health

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Looking back: chef Steve West has reflected on his experiences of mental health
Looking back: chef Steve West has reflected on his experiences of mental health
More help is needed to support mental health of those who work in hospitality kitchens, a chef-turned-lecturer has claimed.

Steve West is a former chef of the InterContinental on London’s Park Lane and used to work with Prue Leith but is now a chef tutor and catering assessor.

While working in a kitchen is hard work, the façade of keeping up appearances that everything is OK takes a toll on chefs’ mental health, West said.

He drew on his experiences in kitchens and how he considered suicide to combat the dark thoughts he was having.

West added: “As you are working hard and [you’re] tired, [there’s] the pressure from busy service, Saturday nights, working 12/14/15 hours a day, it takes its toll.

“The mental side is the expectation of the bravado image like 'suck it up', 'you're not a man if you can't deal with working in the kitchen'.

“Then you put up a front but inside, this fear, this despair, this blackness takes over, to the point that when you go home, you start overthinking, hyperventilating, to the point where you think 'I need to get rid of these dark clouds'.

“How do you get rid of them? Suicide? What's the next step? You think it through, how to take your life to get rid of the nasty, horrible demon that is in your head, that is controlling you."

No network

He said: “I was thinking it through. [At the time for me] there was nobody with empathy, nobody who cared to take me and say 'Steve, you're going to be all right'. There was no network, no posters on the wall.”

The chef went on to outline how he managed to get himself back on track by taking a sleeping pill, as he wasn’t getting much sleep due to his worries.

West added: “I wanted to take my life and it just so happened that I was living at home with my mum and I was having these thoughts, it was dark, I was hyperventilating.

“I was going doing this spiral mentally, it was horrible. My mum wasn't in the mood for a chat. I couldn't sleep, I took a sleeping pill and if wasn't for that pill, I wouldn't be here because I wouldn't have been able to cope any more with the horror that was going on in my head.

“That was the turning point and I went to my doctor and he taught me how to breathe.”

However, he also highlighted that while mental health was becoming less of a taboo subject in the wider world, when it comes to hospitality, there is more work to be done to help people.

More awareness

West said: “There's more awareness [of mental health in hospitality] but there's not much change because they still live in that vacuum of being in the kitchen in pockets around the country and pubs.

“It has changed a little bit, the young chefs are becoming more educated about their lives. It's not as bad as it used to be but it isn't a problem solved yet.”

He called for a champion in the trade to speak up about mental health for others to look up to and take note of.

“There needs to be an advocate in hospitality to say ‘your life will be destroyed if you don't realise what is happening to your body’,” West said.

“There needs to be an advocate about it and I haven't seen much in the media, anyone in hospitality or catering actually thinking about it, it is all to do with sports, which is good, but it needs to be more polarised on caterers, it needs to be polarised on young chefs and there's not enough polarisation to do it.

“There also needs to be a massive drive and initiative and really make it real [mental health]. Not just do lip service. Let them be as passionate about this as they are their profits.”

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