The recent suicide of a young chef who worked at a Calgary restaurant is putting the spotlight on mental health issues faced by those in the business.
As a chef, Skyler Wallinder, 24, found a place to pursue his passion for culinary creativity at Wine Bar Kensington.
“Skyler was an awesome kid. He always had a smile on his face. He was very positive, and I enjoyed working with him,” said Cam Dobranski, owner of Winebar Kensington.
Wallinder died by suicide in April.
“It’s just shattering. I am still reeling from it because I haven’t had time to slow down and really process everything,” Dobranski said.
Wallinder’s mom said his anxiety was made worse by worries over job uncertainty and fear of contracting COVID-19.
Dobranski said the stress brought on by the pandemic is piling up for those in the restaurant business.
“It’s affected my mental health with just worrying about everything. The daily stress of trying to make sure I can pay my rent and pay my staff. I feel like I’ve put everybody else before my thing, and the business is running me, and I think I need to find a bit of a balance right now,” Dobranski said.
Dobranski said Wallinder’s death has reinforced his team’s efforts to look out for each other.
“We know people in our group that have struggles, and sometimes, I have my own, and we always do ask those questions: ‘How are you doing today?’ But with what happened with Skyler, I didn’t ask those questions because I had no idea,” Dobranski said.
“There were no warning signs. He was cheerful every day, and he had a great night that night. I just wish I asked that question to someone I never thought had that issue.”
Devin Rigaux was laid off from her job at a Calgary restaurant in December and now works at a wine store.
“I had some shifts where I’ve come home and cried and not wanted to go back to work because it’s a lot for all of us,” Rigaux said.
She said attempting to enforce health restrictions and working in close contact with others takes its toll on mental health.
“It’s really tough for the virus not to spread. It’s going to happen. You’re just a little bit helpless at times, it feels, in terms of your own health and safety,” Rigaux said.
Rigaux said vaccinations and paid sick days would help with some of the stress restaurant workers are going through.
“It’s very hard to cope. I know a lot of people in our industry also struggle with addictions alongside mental health, and I think there aren’t a lot of conversations about that or a lot of support for them as well,” Rigaux said.
“Everybody is just mentally and physically exhausted,” said Dobranski. “It’s the back and forth. We are waiting for more restrictions. I know everybody’s thinking, ‘Am I going to work next week?’ The worst thing is to lay people off. I’ve had to do this three times now.”
Wallinder’s family is now raising funds to support the mental health of those in the culinary field.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
If you are in need of support, you can call Health Link at 811 or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.
Alberta Health Services has resources for getting through tough times.