Mental health and the restaurant industry: Why it matters now more than ever

When the South African lockdown came into effect on 27 March 2020, we all suffered some kind of emotional trauma as we tried to make sense of a very sudden change in our lives.

Trauma can be described as too much happening too quickly in a way that leaves you unable to cope with the changes on your own. A trauma to your body could be a broken bone or a serious burn, while a trauma in your personal life could be the end of a relationship or losing your job. 

Suddenly we couldn’t go to work, couldn’t see our family and friends or even leave our homes. In the restaurant, hotel and tourism industry everyone suffered a loss the day it was revealed that they could no longer go to work, see their colleagues, earn a salary or run a business. 

Unfortunately that loss seems set to continue. Some of us find ourselves unemployed or earning a lot less than we did six months ago. In such brutal and unavoidable circumstances, mental health is more important now than ever before. 

What is mental health? 

Mental health is the wellness (or illness) of your mind and emotional well-being. According to the Western Cape Department of Health, mental health “is not merely about the absence of mental illness, but rather the presence of mental health and wellbeing. Mental health is about how you feel about yourself, how you relate to others and how you deal with the opportunities, difficulties and challenges of everyday life.”

Just as we all have physical health and wellbeing, we all have mental health. Perhaps you have an aching back, occasional headaches or suffer from seasonal allergies? Similarly, you could have mental health issues that can affect your mood and how you react to situations in your daily life. Some may be milder, like anxiety at work when there’s a lot of pressure, while others can affect you more severely, like depression and low mood. 

Throughout your lifetime, you may have mental health problems that can change the way that you feel, act or perform at work or school. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems


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What does mental health look like in the restaurant industry? 

Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or hotel will tell you about the physical health problems that can come from working long shifts. Standing for hours, lifting heavy items, straining your body and working with sharp equipment can all lead to accidents or injuries. 

Similarly, other workplace dangers could be affecting your mental health and you may not even be aware of them. Not getting enough sleep is a major mental health issue that can lead to poor performance, low mood and even dangerous mistakes. Enduring verbal or physical abuse in the workplace, not spending time with your children and loved ones, as well as trauma or loss in your personal life can all impact your mental health. 

According to global research conducted by FairKitchens:

53% of chefs feel pushed to breaking point.

63% of chefs report having suffered from depression.

74% of chefs feel sleep-deprived to the point of exhaustion.


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Mental health helpline for industry workers

Run in partnership with The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the 24-hour toll-free Fair Kitchens helpline is there any time you need to talk.

All calls are confidential and you can remain completely anonymous. 

Call 0800 006 333 at any time

As well as free telephone counselling, callers can also access further services through the helpline such as nearby support groups, crisis interventions and face-to-face counselling. You don’t have to negotiate this trying time alone.

This is the first in a series of articles focusing on mental health in the restaurant industry. We will look at different ways to care for your mental health, how to build a healthy work environment, how to talk to someone when you’re struggling and, most importantly, where you can get help.

If you’d like to share your story about mental health in the restaurant industry, please email

Information in this article came from various resources where you can learn more about mental health:

What is mental health?

When you’re emotionally affected by trauma

Early warning signs of mental health problems

Mental health in the workplace

Mental health free helpline


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