Unpredictable schedules, night work, a fast-paced environment, unrelenting pressure and access to the best food and drinks: the very features that draw people into the foodservice industry are also a recipe for substance-abuse issues.
“There have been a number of studies conducted in the U.S. and Australia [that show]the hospitality industry is one of the industries at higher risk,” says Shawna Meister, a research and policy analyst at the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
“There are a few factors,” she says. “The hospitality industry is [made up of] shift work, where you do tend to see higher use of substances. The second important reason is the environment: if you’re working at a bar or nightclub, you’re going to be exposed to more substances, such as alcohol or drugs. Also related is the transient nature of the industry; it tends to have more young adults and that age group tends to be at a higher risk of substance use.”
“It’s a place where people with issues and addictive personalities like to go,” comments Stuart Whyte, chef and owner of Edmonton’s Original Redhead Condiments. “It’s a high-stress environment and, to get through it, sometimes people feel it’s necessary to indulge.”
In 2016, Whyte created a project called Food for Thoughts with Dan Letourneau, who currently serves as chef-consultant at Ocean Odyssey Inland in Edmonton. Originally conceived to address men’s mental health in general, the project became a forum to discuss addiction and mental health in restaurants specifically.
“We shouldn’t be holding people’s hands about these issues. We need to help guide them, but we also need to let them find their own answers, because someone else’s answers may not work for you,” says Whyte. “Dan and I both struggled with our own issues and we’re still battling [them]. The more I talk about it and make it real and almost physical, the easier time I have finding solutions to my own issues.”
For individuals seeking help, the first step is “understanding what the risks are — getting the right information,” says Meister. “Often people aren’t aware of the risks or think they don’t apply to them. Another helpful tip is being with peers who are like-minded, having that kind of support.”
For employers and managers, she says it’s about “educating their employees on the facts. Most businesses say if you establish a workplace culture where you don’t accept substance use, but also don’t stigmatize people who are affected by [it], they have the most success.” She notes that professional associations, community agencies and employee-assistance programs can also be helpful.
“One of the resources we wanted to create with Food for Thoughts was a list that would be mandatory in every restaurant of all the addiction centres and at-cost resource centres for mental health and addictions and counsellors,” Whyte says.
“I’m a strong proponent of communication,” he adds. “If you have an issue, the worst thing you can do is hide it.”
Story by Sarah B. Hood