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Lack of staff mounts pressure on depressed chefs

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A shortage of hospitality staff could be worsening depression among chefs, causing some to hang up their aprons for good.

NZChefs president Graham Hawkes said he knew a number of chefs who had left the high-pressure profession due to mental health issues.

Depression among chefs in New Zealand was “of huge concern,” he said.

Top chef turned My Food Bag head of recipe development Anton Leyland said he struggled with depression in his 20s as a young chef. Some senior chefs bullied him.

They were trained to lead with an iron fist, he said. 

Leyland’s My Food Bag colleague, a former chef, Matthew Bing, confided in him about his mental health struggles, he said.

Family believe he took his own life when he died in November. Losing an employee on his watch was a tough time for Leyland. However, it made him realise change needed to occur in the hospitality industry.

He called for head chefs to “cut the macho bulls…” and discuss mental health with colleagues to normalise it.

Being a chef was a gruelling job. They often worked 15 hour days, 7 days a week, in a fast-paced environment and under immense time pressure, he said.

Hawkes said there was a lack of committed and passionate chefs here, mounting pressure on those who took up the job.

Chefs in small cafes and top restaurants felt the same strain mentally, he said.

chef Anton LNZChefs president Graham Hawkes

NZChefs president Graham Hawkes says depression among chefs is a huge concern.

“They all suffer. For far too long it has been brushed under the carpet.”

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said staff shortages absolutely contributed to mental health issues in the industry, particularly for chefs.

Head chefs and restaurant owners were often forced to work long hours to fill gaps in the roster, making them more stressed, she said.

“There is a whole back story behind this. It’s a real challenge, we’ve talked about skills shortages a lot.”

Chefs were listed on Immigration New Zealand’s long term skill shortage list. Cooks were not.

The association was preparing a mental health training programme for the hospitality industry with the help of the Mental Health Foundation. The programme aimed to teach workers how to be more resilient and speak up about mental health issues.

“We want it to be something that’s not taboo,” Bidois said “It’s a national issue but we’re doing what we can for our industry.”

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois says staff shortages worsen workers’ mental health.

The association needed at least $25,000 to tour the programme across New Zealand.  Bidois said it was figuring out which ministry to apply to for the funds.

New Zealand chefs Ben Bayly, Michael Meredith, Michael Van de Elzen and Nic Watt were helping with the project.

Leyland was due to speak about mental health issues at The Food Show with Bayly and Meredith this week.

Where to get help?

1737, Need to talk?
Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat

0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline
0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

What’s Up
0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
Or email or free text 5626

Anxiety New Zealand
0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

If it is an emergency or you, or someone you know, is at risk call 111.

Article by: Madison Reidy, Stuff

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