New research reveals attitudes to mental health in hospitality

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A third of people working in hospitality have experienced high levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue over the past year, according to a new report on mental health.

The findings were part of research commissioned by the industry’s charity, The Benevolent, into the state of mental health and attitudes towards it in the hospitality sector. It was presented at a seminar at London Wine Fair at Olympia in London this week.

It found that, while around 33% of respondents had experienced high levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue over the past year, 40% had never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health issues. Despite a good awareness of mental health, there was still a strong perception that the topic was a taboo.

The research found that 49% of respondents believed that their company had no mental health support mechanism in place, or none that they are aware of.

However, 50% of managers were aware of the existence of these polices and, of these, a third believed that employees were not aware of them.

The main barrier that stopped 48% of respondents from disclosing their mental health difficulties was the potential harm to career prospects.

The survey revealed that there were three main barriers that prevented employees from approaching colleagues to discuss mental health issues: the fear of making the other person feel uncomfortable, not being so close to that person, and unsure how to start the conversation.

In the seminar, freelance drinks writer Mike Turner openly addressed the issue of mental health in the trade press. “When I started talking about mental health it was because I was running out of energy of hiding it. My body doesn’t produce serotonin, like diabetics don’t produce enough insulin. Why shall I be ashamed about it? It has been incredible how people have reacted when the article was published. In talking about my mental health difficulties many were encouraged to open up and discuss about their own difficulties.”

The panellists had an in-depth discussion on the role of managers in the trade, who may be expected to look after their teams’ wellbeing. Christo Eliott Lockhart, sales manager at Hallgarten & Novum Wines, said: “As a manager of a team, it is much harder to spot difficulties as you might not spend much time with them, especially if they work from home. However, it is more than worthwhile to bring up the conversation about how are they feeling, rather than just talking about business all the time.

“Ultimately you will gain the loyalty and trust from your team that allows them to open up about their mental health issues. I would strongly suggest asking your colleagues ‘how are you’ but try to listen carefully and look at details, because spotting first signals is a way to help them.”

A first practical step widely indicated by the panellists to begin the process of identifying the first signs of stress among colleagues would be the implementation of in-house Mental Health First Aid training arranged by the industry’s companies for employees. Kat Hounsell, an MHFA trainer and founder of workplace wellbeing specialist Everyday People, said: “The Mental Health First Aid course is aimed at helping to raise awareness of mental health, especially in the workplace, teaching employees to listen, to support and to signpost people in need to the right direction of support.

“It’s more likely to come across someone who had suicidal thoughts than a heart attack. My suggestion to those people who don’t know how to approach colleagues who might be facing some mental health difficulties is to be discreet, be conversational and be observational.”

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirits Trade Association, reiterated the industry’s collective responsibility to protect its own community from the impact of mental health issues. “Recently the awareness of mental health is increasing, and charities now have a much higher national profile to discuss about mental health. I don’t think that our industry is any more or less prone to mental health, but we as an industry have a responsibility to look after our own trade.

“Most of the time when mental health issues arise we found ourselves to be reacting to those, however we should also be proactive about mental health difficulties, such as getting the conversation well upstream and make sure everyone know what to do in case of need. We should challenge ourselves on making the conversation about mental health a daily experience instead of an intervention to a problem.”

The Benevolent’s CEO Chris Porter commented: “This seminar was the result of three months of research aimed at understanding the mental well-being of those working in our drinks industry. It has helped us all gain a clearer understanding when and where those issues may arise, who is affected and what we, as the drinks industry charity, need to do to help.

“We are humbled that so many have spoken so openly about their experiences and that alone proves the need is there and that the subject need no longer be taboo. There is still a long way to go. I would like to extend our sincere and grateful thanks to all our panellists who took part in our debate and to London Wine Fair for providing us the chance to get the conversation started. It is only the beginning of our ongoing mission to widen it further.”

To find out more about The Benevolent’s work around mental health, visit www.thebenevolent.org.uk/mental-health/.

Pictured (left to right): Mike Turner, Christo Eliott Lockhart, Chris Porter, Kat Hounsell and Miles Beale

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