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Renowned chef Adrian Richardson has opened up about his personal experiences with mental health as industry heavyweights band together to shed light on the issue within hospitality.
The TV chef’s commitment to speaking openly about the sensitive topic comes after fellow chefs, Jeremy Strode, Darren Simpson and Anthony Bourdain fell victims to mental health and sadly claimed their own lives.
During an interview with Goodman Fielder Food Service, Adrian labelled the hospitality industry as a “lonely life” as he reflected on his 20-plus-year career. He joked that he and his colleagues call their wives a “chef’s widow” because they are never available for personal events due to the job’s long hours.
The restaurant owner admitted that despite being in the profession for some time, missing out of important functions “leaves a little sour taste in your mouth,” he said. “It wears people down. I can say that missing out on these things, it disconnects you from regular life.
“You are trying to fit in with a family that is already running a million miles per hour,” Adrian continued. “They are doing their thing, going to events and you feel like you are on the outside of it. It takes a tough person to get through that and not everyone is built for that sort of life,” he said.
Along with the disconnection with normality, Adrian added the “hard work” and “long hours” also contribute to the increase of mental health conditions within the industry. “It’s long hours, it’s hot and sweaty, it is quite repetitive at times and it can be really stressful,” he said.
“There are a lot of hard aspects to being a chef, but for most of us who are doing it, we enjoy it. It’s a pirate’s life but we love it.” Adrian went on to admit that signs of weakness are frowned upon within kitchens, contributing to the issue of chefs keeping their problems and issues to themselves.
“For most head chefs, you have to be big, tough and strong,” he said. “You’re never really one of the boys, you’re the boss and a sign of weakness can be perceived as a downfall. It is a very lonely place to be.”
When reflecting on his own experiences with mental health, Adrian begged his fellow chefs to speak out and seek help if they are experiencing the illness in silence. “I have had some very close family and friends commit suicide due to mental health and it has been devastating to myself and friends and family,” he admitted.
“We have now been left with this ‘how could we have helped? What could we have done to change this’. In the mind of that person, there is no other option for them…but if only they knew that we are here and that we can help.
“But unfortunately, that is the way mental health works. It is such a debilitating illness that you can’t see it,” he continued. “It’s not like someone has spots on their arms that you can see and then realise you can help – it’s not like that. It’s hidden and that is the problem with this illness.”
The renowned chef called upon his fellow cooks to stand up and make a difference within their kitchens in a hope of decreasing the number of cases within hospitality. “Talk to your staff consistently. Just by talking to people, you can usually find out what is going on and provide them with some assistance,” he said, adding: “It might not be a lot but it might be a huge thing to someone.
“You have to create an environment where people are respected, feel like they are a part of what is going on, listened to and know that at any moment, they can come and knock on your door and come in,” Adrian said. “If you can radiate the message that you care and that there are people around them who care, you could make a difference to someone’s life.”
Adrian’s honest comments come after fellow renowned chef, Manu Feildel opened up about his experiences with mental health and the importance of making it an everyday conversation in the kitchen.
At the time, Manu told Goodman Fielder Food Service: “We need to talk about this on a daily basis and all of us in the industry, including the media, need to make sure everyone around us are in good shape…spend time with your staff and speak openly with them.”
In the most recent years, suicide rates across the industry has risen, with R U OK reporting 80% of hospitality workers have admitted that mental health is a challenge faced by the majority within the industry. According to government studies, suicide is now the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.