It has always been a fiery place, where steaming pots and sharp knives are as much a part of the job as pressure in the pursuit of perfection — mistakes are not tolerated. Professional kitchens and dining rooms are naturally stressful spaces, which sometimes create toxic environments that can have a devastating effect on their employees' mental health.
Chefs with explosive tempers have become so common in the restaurant industry that aggressions to their co-workers have gone from being frowned upon to being ‘glamourised’ on reality shows. Hostile behaviour and conditions have been normalised in the sector, and for years restaurant workers have coped with increasing levels of stress, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mental fatigue.
And then, as if all that were not enough, the pandemic hit, exacerbating mental health issues as never before.
“Even cooks and servers who have never had mental health issues before started to have concerns disturbing their minds, as all of us find ourselves living in a new state of survival and loneliness. And that is why absolutely nobody should be ashamed of how they are thinking or feeling, especially now,” says Merly Kammerling, founder of Me, Myself in Mind, a UK-based initiative delivering therapy, stress reduction and mental health awareness workshops for hospitality professionals.
When Kammerling first decided she wanted to become a therapist nine years ago, mental health support was minimal. "When I was working as a full-time chef myself and struggling to cope with my own mental health, the stigma was hard enough, let alone finding support within the industry. That was unheard of,” she says.