Hospitality Industry Makes Efforts To Address Mental Health Issues, Addiction

By Beth Leipholtz 03/11/19

Leaders in the industry are working to create national resources for those dealing with addiction and mental health issues. 

hospitality worker inside of a restaurant

The culinary world was shaken last year when celebrity chef and television host Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. Bourdain, well-loved by fans and peers, had been open about his battles with depression and history of substance use disorder

But for Patrick Mulvaney, owner of the exalted Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento, California, Bourdain’s death was a part of something larger, Civil Eats reports. In 2018 alone, at least 12 people in the Sacramento hospitality and restaurant community lost their lives to “mental health complications.” 

“It was brutal,” Mulvaney told Civil Eats. “Just in between middle of December and middle of January, four people died in Sacramento, hospitality people. Three of them were either working or had worked for us before, and one was a long-time Sacramentan. So, this is about as ‘home’ as home can get.” 

According to Civil Eats, the 10 million Americans who work in the hospitality and restaurant industry are more likely than others to struggle with mental illness and substance use disorder

This is something that the industry is beginning to take into consideration. Wolete “Sunny” Atherley is the owner of two restaurants in the Sacramento area and tells Civil Eats she tends to hire young adults from the area. 

“They feel like they can be themselves [here]” she said. “Over time, though, I realized a lot of my young employees were dealing with depression.”

According to Mulvaney, working in an industry built on caring about the needs of others is part of the reason why some people disregard their own needs.  

“We have an industry with a problem that we don’t always talk about,” says Mulvaney. “We’re in hospitality, so we want to know how your soup is, whether your drink is right, or if your steak is cooked right, and we don’t necessarily think about ourselves that much.”

As a response to the numerous deaths in 2018, Mulvaney has partnered with Kaiser Permanente, VSP Global, WellSpace Health, the Steinberg Institute and the James Beard Foundation to build a pilot program called “I Got Your Back.” 

The program is meant to break the stigma about mental health in the industry and works through peer-to-peer or near-peer counseling. Certain employees are trained to identify warning signs of mental distress and are made available as support. 

Mulvaney has also been hosting mental health workshops and seminars for others in the industry. Next, he tells Civil Eats, he plans to create online resources for industry workers to reach out for help. 

“If we can affect even one person, then we’re good at my restaurant,” Mulvaney said.

“If we can affect the city by having more of us in the restaurant world adopting I Got Your Back—and we want to do this across spectrums, not just James Beard restaurants. We want all restaurants from fast food to high-end eateries to adopt it—that would be cool. And, if this works [we’ll have] California, [then hopefully] Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, and other states bringing the conversation out and expanding the coalition of the willing.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.