With guidance from Hospitality Action and our FairKitchens community – check out some advice for looking after each other, and ourselves.
Hospitality Action's tips for starting a mental health conversation:
Don't wait for the perfect moment.
Asking somebody to speak frankly about their mental wellness is hard at the best of times, so why heap the pressure on yourself and them by manufacturing a set-piece discussion? Just build a conversation into the working day. The idea is to normalise conversations about mental health, not over-dramatize them.
Mind your language - and be a good listener.
There's no right or wrong way of expressing yourself; the important thing is to be empathetic by letting people speak - and listen. Don’t jump in too soon with advice. Offer reassurance: saying “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time” shows you care. But never say things like “don’t be silly”. Even if they’re well-intended, negative comments can knock self-confidence and reinforce embarrassment.
Have a few lines up your sleeve: “we’re all human.” “We all have mental health.” “We all feel low sometimes.” Be patient and to let the person know that you are there for them, care for them and are ready to support them.
Don't take "fine" for an answer.
We often say we’re okay when really we’re not. Asking twice is a good way of letting someone know you really are interested in their well-being. Try saying “no, really, is everything okay?” or ask “how are you on a scale of one to ten?”. By persisting, you’re signalling to them that you care and want to listen to them.
Don't worry that you're not an expert.
You’re not a therapist, and you’re not conducting a formal interview. You’re just a concerned friend or colleague, and that alone is a powerful thing. Simply by being open, intuitive, sensitive, kind and encouraging, you can help someone you’re concerned about. You don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to remind them that there are people who care about them, people who can help.
Talk about yourself.
If you want someone to speak openly about themselves, sharing your own feelings can help encourage them. Perhaps confide in them that you get a little low sometimes, worry about things, or perhaps struggle to sleep. Doing so demonstrates your empathy and ability to talk about feelings, and can reassure them that you aren’t going to judge them.
Be specific where possible.
If you know that someone has experienced mental illness - maybe they’ve had time off work recently, or talked about it being depressed - don’t be afraid to refer to this when you ask how they’re doing. There’s no need to refer to specific details.
If you think someone has been acting differently it’s OK to mention that too, if it is done in a kind way. “You’ve seemed a bit quiet recently, is everything alright? I’m here if you want to talk.” This shows that you care and opens the door for them to chat about their issues when they’re ready.
Any conversation is good, whatever form it takes.
Talking to someone face to face allows you to show you care through expressions and tone of voice. And it enables you to read the body language of the person you want to help. But it’s okay to use digital forms of communication, too.
The occasional text or direct message on Twitter tells somebody you value them and you’re thinking of them.
Don't give up.
You may not kick-start a conversation at first attempt. But simply by trying to do so, you’ve sown a seed of trust in their mind. If the person you’re concerned about isn’t ready to discuss their feelings with you just yet, you need to respect that and not force the issue.
But leave the door open for another conversation another time. And be patient - you may need to have a few tries to open a conversation. Even if someone doesn’t feel like talking at that moment, they know you’ll be there to listen when they’re ready.
What can I do as a manager?
"This is a really good chance for employers to normalise mental health conversations and find opportunities to ask people"
"Work can be a full-on, adrenalin-fuelled place where people might not be comfortable having emotional conversations. It’s about getting that culture in place of asking after each other. Slowly but surely building that sense that there is a will to listen.
Everybody is feeling disconcerted by what’s going on. "
"As employers we can’t necessarily expect that they can work in the way that they have done in the past.”
Mark Lewis, CEO, Hospitality Action.
How can I spot if a team member is struggling?
"With the majority of people, anxiety and depression shows itself in the way people hold themselves, their ability to communicate, the way they talk. Or they’re looking down a lot and giving short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and not wanting to..."
"These are the times that you want to start asking open-ended questions. Stuff they can’t just say a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. And then you need to really listen."
Chef Doug Sanham, Pilot Light Campaign.