New mental health initiative created in Calgary focuses on healing hospitality industry

Click to play video: 'New mental health initiative focuses on healing hospitality industry'
New mental health initiative focuses on healing hospitality industry
WATCH: The mental health of people in the hospitality industry was rarely talked about. But the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and bars has exposed a big problem. As Jill Croteau reports, a Calgary man who worked in the industry developed a project to help those suffering in silence – Jun 13, 2022

There is growing concern for the mental wellbeing of those in the restaurant industry, who have typically subscribed to the mantra: look after everyone else before looking after yourself.

The hospitality industry prides itself on treating the guests as a priority. But according to those working in the industry, it comes at a cost.

Heeso Cho created the Hospitality Healing Project (HHP), an initiative designed to support those struggling with mental health

Heeso Cho created Hospitality Healing Project. Jill Croteau/Global News

Cho worked in hospitality for years but shifted into a new career and became the co-founder of SABI mind, a therapeutic organization that offers treatments for mental health conditions.

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“This is about giving back to the community. I wanted to support individuals with mental health challenges and this is about meeting individuals where they are, at different accessibility points, and different service options,” Cho said.

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Food for Thoughts talks about mental health in hospitality industry

HHP offers free peer support once a month and helps connect people with therapy and counselling.

“People in hospitality go through inconsistent shifts, there’s inconsistent pay because you’re dependent on tips,” Cho said.

“You’re always around substances and there’s an expectation to show up in good mood to encourage guests to have good experience when maybe when you’re not genuinely feeling that way.”

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He said there’s an undeniable sense of family and team environment in the industry and HHP is about striking a good balance.

“This is about being in a team environment.

“We’ve all lost close friends and colleagues to substance abuse and to suicide and those types of situations will unfortunately become more prominent if we don’t start looking at how to support these individuals,” Cho said.

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Tom Chai has worked for 15 years in the industry and still does. He wants to bring the issue out of the shadows.

“I’m a pretty private person. This isn’t easy, but I have seen a lot of loss and I’ve lost friends and colleagues to battles with mental health.”

Tom Chai. Jill Croteau/Global News

He said it’s important to be vulnerable so others can acknowledge their own struggles.

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“I think over time, for front line service staff and anyone who is customer- or client-facing, because of a high volume of inter-personal interaction, over time, a little bit of a psychological and emotional callous develops,” Chai said.

He’s been getting support through HHP. He attended a Sunday seminar.

“We as humans and as people are all struggling with similar things and that peer support is invaluable.  It’s nice to have a safe confidential space to share lived experiences,” Chai said.

The fluctuating opening and closing of restaurants during the pandemic left many lonely, disconnected and uncertain about returning to that fragile environment. Restaurants Canada vice president for Western Canada, Mark von Schellwitz, said 10,000 restaurants have closed since 2020.

“We’ve heard three-quarters of our industry are suffering from anxiety or depression or burnout as a result of the pandemic,” von Schellwitz said.

“We need to make sure our workforce is happy, healthy and productive.”

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If you or someone you know needs help, call 211 or the Distress Centre’s 24-hour crisis line at 403-266-HELP (4357).

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In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues

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