Depression, Addiction, and the Restaurant Industry

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

The restaurant and hospitality industries are high-paced and high-stress—and have some of the highest rates of mental illness in any field.

For staff in these industries, it’s the nature of the job to look after everyone else and put themselves last. And for many, the intensity of the roles can lead to burnout, which can make it feel like addressing their mental health is “too little, too late.”

These industries experience heightened rates of drug use, mental health issues, and harassment—and for many folks working in restaurants or hospitality, a poor quality of life.

So, how do we initiate change in addressing mental health? How can we help individuals feel valued, seen, and heard when they’re concerned about their own mental health? And in what ways can we instill changes in these industries?

Audience Questions

Food & Wine Magazine’s Kat Kinsman, MIDA Boston’s Douglass Williams, and McLean Hospital’s Ipsit Vahia, MD, discuss ways to recognize crisis in yourself and others, share methods to have constructive—and productive—conversations about mental health, and answer audience questions about mental health in two critical industries.

  • Can you each share what has drawn you to the intersection of mental health and the restaurant and hospitality industries?
  • For industries that are inclusive of folks of all backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc., there is still a substantial amount of stigma regarding mental health—and many are suffering in silence. What do you think is keeping people from reaching out and seeking help?
  • Can you talk about protections for restaurant worker’s jobs? There is a culture of retaliation and “if you don’t like it, leave” in restaurants. Does it have to be like this? What are your ideas for solutions?
  • Many folks in the restaurant and hospitality industries operate under the premises that resilience is everything and burnout is expected. What are the short- and long-term mental health implications of these impressions and how can we try to offset them?
  • How can folks who are in these industries check in on each other and themselves?
  • Many folks who are feeling the overwhelm of mental health combined with the stressors of the job will cope with substance use. What are some other ways that folks in these industries can cope, especially if they feel that their stressors are largely misunderstood?
  • Are the restaurant and hospitality industries in the middle of a mental health epidemic? And if so, how do we start addressing it?
  • How can folks dealing with rude and mean customers not let their behavior impact their mental health?
  • Do you think the changing schedules and late shifts contribute to mental health issues for hospitality workers? If yes, do you have advice on how to navigate the biological challenges that may arise?
  • What can we do to address our own mental health and the mental health of those around us, members of the restaurant industry or not?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

About Douglass Williams

Douglass Williams has the hospitality industry in his blood–he was taught to make scrambled eggs with a wooden spoon at just four years of age. At seventeen, following surgery for Crohn’s disease and fueled by a newfound interest in wellness, Williams learned about cooking using clean foods and whole produce. He enrolled in culinary school, earning a degree from The Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College.

In his culinary explorations, he has traveled through Southeast Asia, working at an entirely sustainable resort in Chumphon as well as Sardinia. Following working in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York and Paris, he opened MIDA, an Italian influenced neighborhood restaurant, in Boston’s South End.

About Kat Kinsman

Kat Kinsman is senior editor at Food & Wine Magazine, author of Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, host of Food & Wine’s Communal Table podcast, and founder of Chefs With Issues.

Previously, she was the senior food and drinks editor at Extra Crispy, editor-in-chief and editor at large at Tasting Table, and the founding editor of CNN Eatocracy.

She is a frequent public speaker on the topics of food and mental health, won a 2020 IACP Award for Personal Essay/Memoir, and has had work included in the 2020 and 2016 editions of The Best American Food Writing.

About Dr. Vahia

Ipsit Vahia, MD, is a geriatric psychiatrist, clinician, and researcher. He is the medical director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean Hospital and the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry. He is also the director of the Technology and Aging Laboratory.

Dr. Vahia serves on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Council on Geriatric Psychiatry and the Geriatric Psychiatry Committee of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

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