Shaun Quade on mental health in hospitality
I have a mental illness. I have attempted to kill myself. It feels surreal to write those words down on paper. Not because I’m ashamed to admit it, but because as I sit here writing, I feel so far removed from the person I was then compared to who I am now.
I haven’t necessarily changed my personality, but I have learnt a great deal about how my mind works, how I react and how I cope with situations and life in general. In a nutshell, I have gained perspective.
There’s a famous, overused quote about how writing about music is like dancing about architecture. That’s kind of how it feels for someone who suffers from a mental illness to read media reports written by people who have never experienced it. To read about ‘the problem’ in our industry, the latest chef suicide and the importance of asking “R U OK?” as if this frees our conscience so we’re comfortable we’ve done our bit. We’ve done sweet fuck all.
The problem persists, and while it’s promising people are now talking about it, we’ve got a long way to go in stripping away the taboo that is mental health in the hospitality industry and the community in general.
The subject only raises its head as a result of tragic and extreme circumstances, such as when someone well-known and loved falls away. But as the weeks go on and another restaurant opens, another closes, and another top 10 burger venues in Melbourne list is published, the conversation inevitably dies down again and we are left back where we started.
The only difference being that a few more flooding tributes and media articles have added to the graveyard of well-meaning intentions to fix ‘the problem’. Until it happens again and again.
If you’re going to punish yourself, at least channel it into something constructive. Many people choose to escape mental or physical pain by punishing themselves. Unfortunately, this is often through destructive activities that hurt their lives further such as drug and alcohol addiction, irresponsible behaviours, etc.
These are particularly prevalent in the hospitality industry which is why from day one, Lûmé has been a dry workplace. For me, I punished myself through overworking; channelling excess mental energy and neurotic thought into furthering my skills in the kitchen. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a healthy response, but it’s better than the former option and it provided me with a single goal to focus on. It’s also what led me to where I am today as a chef.
I chose to immerse myself into kitchen work and to keep learning and being quite obsessive about it. Being in a kitchen environment that’s very structured and very routine-driven was actually beneficial to me mentally; there’s hierarchy and routine and every day you have to do the same thing as well or if not better than you did the day before. It’s the crutch of consistency that many of us need in order to regain stability.
I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without those mental health challenges. What for many years felt like a burden now feels like an ironic blessing … as strange as that may sound. I wouldn’t change one minute of that pain and I wouldn’t feel so grateful for having achieved what I have if those things had never happened to me. It doesn’t need to be a weakness, it can be a strength.
For anyone who’s reading this and thinking their situation is different, that they have things much worse, or that there’s no way out — you’re most likely wrong. In everything I’ve seen in my life to date, and the people I have met, I’m reminded there are always those who are worse off than you. They are the reasons why you and I should be grateful.
So if we can’t start to talk about these things with each other — and I literally mean with each other and not via the platform of articles written by journalists who aren’t in our kitchens and our personal situations — then what hope have we got?
Remember … you are not alone.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, please contact Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s October issue. Subscribe here.