Launched in May 2019, The Burnt Chef Project was set up with the sole intention of eradicating mental health stigma within hospitality, and while it initially gained recognition and use from back-of-house teams and food-led pubs during the first year that has now changed.
“The demands of working in hospitality, whether you’re a general manager, a housekeeper, maintenance engineer, air steward, you know, whatever it is that you are, working in hospitality and the knock-on effect that Covid has had, has meant our project is more relevant to the general audience than ever before,” says Hall.
He also stressed that although younger people are more aware of their mental health needs, it is something that affects everyone.
Hall explains: “The big elephant in the room is that there’s a generational shift happening when it comes down to openness of conversations.
“I’m 36 now and even back when I was growing up, this wasn’t something you would talk about – you just get on with it because it is what it is – but for my story, and from loads of other stories, getting on with it and just putting it down to the bottom doesn’t always yield great results.
“If you are a different generation to a Millennial or Gen Z that shouldn’t stop or hold you from having a conversation but we have to recognise that there’s a different way of being brought up, there’s different thought processes and that stigma associated with mental health or ill mental health might be quite strong.”
The two accredited suicide prevention training programmes, SFA Lite and SFAUSI (Suicide First Aid through Understanding Suicide Interventions) have been made available in association with Suicide First Aid and MHFA England.
They were both released to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, which occurs every year on 10 September. The day aims to focus attention on how we can create a world where fewer people die by suicide, reduce stigma, raise awareness and reinforce the message that suicides are preventable.
Hall says: “These are two trainings that add to an existing large training portfolio that we have when it comes down to mental health and wellbeing. And we’ve added them and launched them on World Suicide Prevention Day because of the increasing rates of suicide within society and hospitality.”
The Burnt Chef has enjoyed success with the pub industry and has worked with the likes of Marston’s, Brunning & Price, Greene King, Liberation Group and Butcombe.
Mental health issue for 80%
“Based on our studies, we have found four out of five hospitality professionals have experienced at least one mental illness during their career within hospitality,” Hall admits. “It’s not to say these are as a result of or wasn’t caused necessarily by hospitality but these can be environments that aren’t conducive to improving wellbeing and that will increase the risk.”
Hall began the Burnt Chef because he suffered mental ill health himself.
He explains: “I was supplying the food trade as a food wholesaler, I was working with about 600 businesses in the south-west. From Michelin star B&Bs, hotels, pubs, restaurants, caterers, and I’d been dragging around mental illness from the age of about 17 or 18.
“It reared its ugly head in my early to mid-20s and I did what any person would be expected to do at that age and ignored it.
“I covered it up with drinking and destructive behaviours until the point I hit rock bottom. At that point, I didn’t know where to look, I didn’t know who to ask for help and just tried to muddle on through despite the fact everything was going completely against me.
“I felt like I was the only person in the world who was experiencing this illness and it took me a very, very long time to reach out for help in the form of therapy – much longer than it should have. Even when I was outside that therapist’s office, it still took a good 45 minutes for me to get the courage to knock on the door and go in because I genuinely thought I was broken and I was damaged.
“So having experienced that shame and that stigma associated with being mentally unwell, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to feel in the same way you wouldn’t be judged if you had a cold or a flu, I wanted to do something that really started to create an awareness or more of a conversation so that other people didn’t take as long as it took me.
“It damaged my life, damaged my career and damaged my relationships.”
He explains there are many different types of mental illness in the same way there are many things that can go wrong with any person physically, such as colds, viruses, breaks, sprains and, of course, longer-term illnesses and mental health is no different.
Changes in character
He adds: “You might experience high rates of anxiety at one stage in your life but you might never experience that. You might experience a depression or may have something like fibromyalgia or bi-polar, which are very much with you for the rest of your life.
“The key thing for operators to take away is that if you notice that there’s a change in character, or if you notice people are becoming more withdrawn or socially distant or even more extrovert – perhaps a sudden change of behaviour, it’s usually a good idea to start a conversation.
“The younger generation are much more aware of mental health and mental illness and they’re very open to starting a conversation and saying ‘I have anxiety’ or whatever it might be.
“The key definition is a mental illness is diagnosed by a healthcare professional and usually lasts two or more weeks when it’s having an impact in your day-to-day life – that’s when a mental illness would usually be classified.”
In terms of getting support, the sufferer can speak to a GP, confidentially, or “depending on the culture within your pub, you might want to speak to the manager, or if you’re the manager, you might want to speak to someone else”.
“Having a mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength to be able to have a conversation around it and it opens the door for many of your other team members to feel comfortable about discussing this and something that can, and tragically does, end lives,” Hall states.
The Burnt Chef has a wealth of tools and services available out there including a 24-hour-a-day text-based confidential support service so a trained volunteer could text someone back at say 4am.
All of The Burnt Chef’s training, other than Mental Health First Aid, is done in person. This year alone, it has trained some 2,500 managers and wellbeing champions in mental health awareness.
It works across about 80 of Liberation Group’s recently acquired Cirrus Inns and some Wadworth sites and is set to launch a new round of training with them. It has worked at all 80-odd Brunning & Price sites and all circa 600 Marston’s pubs – and breweries such as Portobello Brewery in west London.
Hall adds: “We did some training recently and one of the delegates said to me ‘I’ve actually used you a few weeks ago. I was in a funk, I wasn’t doing very well, I needed someone to reach out and speak to. I text the number and someone spoke to me and that was the catalyst for me getting more long-term support, in terms of counselling, which is something I wouldn’t have done’.
“That’s really humbling to hear but there are more services such as the Licensed Trade Charity that is worth checking with your employers and people should also just Google any local organisations – there’s tonnes of organisations out there to help.”