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Mental health resources for restaurant workers are hard to find, but one organization is set on changing that

Restaurant work can be challenging, and not just in terms of the physical toll it takes on your body. The jobs are often stressful, tiring, and underpaid, and without support services like human resources departments, restaurant workers with mental health issues don't always get the help they need. Atlanta-based nonprofit Giving Kitchen (GK), though, is hoping to change that, by partnering with suicide prevention organization QPR Institute to expand the reach and access of suicide prevention training for members of the food industry.

Throughout May and June, GK is offering this training for free (it typically costs $30 per person) to employees based in Atlanta, with plans to eventually expand to other areas across the country. The course focuses on self-care, including info on workplace harassment and worksheets listing both national and local mental health resources. The entire program can be completed online in an hour, and its main points revolve around the QPR method — how to Question, Persuade and Refer someone who may be suicidal to find help. The other aspects include:

  • How to get help for yourself or learn more about preventing suicide
  • The common causes of suicidal behavior
  • The warning signs of suicide
  • How to get help for someone in crisis

"The service industry represents a high-risk group for suicide and special stresses,” Paul Quinnett, QPR Institute CEO, said in a press release. “Fundamentally, QPR is the mental health equivalent of CPR, and it provides any citizen the opportunity to engage with people who are at risk. People in pain have a story to tell, so we set out to create a program that would cause a conversation that might not otherwise happen.”

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Earlier this year, Giving Kitchen was named the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year for 2019, a title that allows the non-profit to have a "larger platform to prompt restaurateurs across our nation to put self-care first at their establishments," according to Giving Kitchen executive director Bryan Schroeder in a news release. Added Schroeder, "Giving Kitchen is one of many organizations calling for self-care in our food service community. We don’t have all the answers, but we believe this is a good start.”

In the release, Schroeder also encouraged food service employees to “Take the free suicide prevention training. Implement a harassment policy. Take advantage of the connections we’ve built. Be ready if one of your teammates needs help." QPR trainer Matt Wagner, however, noted that one of the main reasons people avoid speaking to a peer or coworker who is having a hard time is that they just don't know what to say or do, which is where the training can come in. Explained Wagner, "The QPR method can help to not only save lives, but to build a culture in which people are looking out for each other better than before.”

To supplement the suicide prevention training, GK is also encouraging commercial food service establishments to adopt and implement formal harassment policies, which will include clear reporting structures and ensure that all employees know harassment is not tolerable. Additionally, talking points that can be read to employees and a list of easily-accessible resources and networks for food service workers in crisis — whether suffering from depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other issues — are currently available at givingkitchen.org.

The food service industry can be a toxic and isolating environment, leaving workers to frequently feel like they have anywhere to turn within their own community. With the support of organizations like Giving Kitchen and the QPR Institute, though, perhaps more employees will feel comfortable providing a hand to their colleagues or finding the help they need themselves.