Mental illness doesn't discriminate -- not by gender, ethnicity, religion, class or profession. When untreated, it devastates the many overlapping tiers of our lives, from intimate relationships to professional camaraderie, and from creative break downs to loss of productivity in the workplace.
The recent passing of Anthony Bourdain brings to light an understated and oftentimes overlooked issue in the food and hospitality industry: mental health. As the circumstances of Bourdain's death continue to emerge, and as the entrepreneurial community still reels from news of Kate Spade's suicide this week, the call has once again been reinvigorated to destigmatize depression.
The hospitality industry, which is my professional and entrepreneurial home base, has begun to engage the subject of mental illness, one step at a time. Mental health and wine are awkward bedfellows, as an opinion piece in a trade platform called The Buyer commented. "The wine industry is a tough one for those suffering from mental health issues," wrote editor-in-chief Richard Siddle. "It features long and irregular hours, average wages and... lots of alcohol."
Within the wine and food world, there are short and often intermingled steps from mental health to struggles with alcohol to, in some cases, addiction.
Here are four critical lessons that shed light on mental illness and addiction in the wine and food world. In them you'll find points of access, and places where we can all relate, either for ourselves or for friends and colleagues in our circles.
Talking about it is a relief.
The wine industry, for all its glorious luxuries, is just as rife as anywhere else when it comes to people suffering from a mental health condition, according to Mike Turner in an article on The Buyer last year called "Why Mental Health and Wine Can Be Awkward Bedfellows."
A crucial first step in addressing the problem is to open up and talk to people about the challenges you're facing, Turner advises. A weight is lifted off your shoulders. That's important because it begins to shift a person's internal perspective, which is particularly helpful as the industry as a whole catches on in the meanwhile to the need for healthier balance.
Ask for help, and accept it when it's offered.
Not all of us benefit from a small group of friends with the wherewithal and courage to stage an intervention. But sometimes that's the shape of the help that's offered.
Chef Sean Brock recognized immediately that an intervention was exactly what was happening when his three closest friends knocked on his door, according to Kim Severson in her salient and impactful profile of Brock last year in the New York Times.
It broke some things open.
Brock has been tagged many things. Southern culinary revivalist. Heritage preserver. Multiple James Beard award nominee, including Outstanding Chef four times over. Arm covered in vegetable tattoos. Collector of vintage bottles of American bourbon.
He's now tagged as someone in recovery for substance abuse, and he's on a new mission: inspiring people in the restaurant industry to take better care of themselves, which he does in part by speaking very openly about his own struggles.
"It's not just about alcohol," Severson quotes Brock. "It's about teaching people in the restaurant business how to ask for help."
Face up the problem, and help each other.
What demands does working in alcohol make on your health? This was the central question Rebecca Hopkins addressed in an article for Meininger's Wine Business International.
"To stay well and healthy in this industry, particularly when traveling to markets where tasting and drinking is part of the job, is not easy, as it requires restraint, mindfulness of environment, body awareness, and knowledge of self," Hopkins wrote.
We know this to be true. Still, the practice in the industry is more "turn a blind eye, you're on your own" than "let's face this, help each other." Momentum to reverse direction can be seen in responses to Hopkins' article, which came from every sector of the industry, including winemakers, C-suite executives, importers, advocacy groups, distributors, tour leaders and journalists.
Remove the stigma of calling others out.
A couple years ago, I conducted a Forbes Q&A with Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine (a distinction fewer than 400 people in the world have ever received) and recovering alcoholic. It remains one of the most-viewed articles I've ever written.
Hanni's openness and candor struck a chord. So did his willingness to call people out and call attention to the problem.
There's an abject ignorance around alcoholism and the dynamics of addiction, Hanni said, "so rather than have a balance of people in one's life, you tend to gravitate to the people who have a problem with it, because no one wants to call anyone on it. It's about time that we remove the stigma and be able to say to someone, look, you have a problem."
Should you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.