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While Blue Monday was initially created as a PR stunt, it provides an important opportunity to talk about the very real mental health challenges that people across the UK from different backgrounds, communities and industries are facing today.

To mark the day, we took the opportunity to speak to Kris Hall, Founder of The Burnt Chef Project, about his mission to open up conversations about mental health within the hospitality sector.

As part of Hall’s drive to create a healthier, happier and more sustainable hospitality industry, The Burnt Chef Project partnered with Mental Health Innovations in February 2021 to provide UK hospitality professionals with access to free, 24/7, confidential mental health support by texting ‘BURNTCHEF’ to 85258.

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Kris Hall, Founder of The Burnt Chef Project

What is The Burnt Chef Project?

8 out of 10 hospitality professionals report having experienced at least one mental health issue during their career. The Burnt Chef Project is a non-profit social enterprise fully committed to making the hospitality profession healthier, happier and more sustainable.

We sell merchandise and run paid courses to raise funds so that we can provide free support to the hospitality industry, including our partnership with Shout, podcasts and other resources. We also build the capability of owners, line managers and employees through mental health awareness training.

By providing these services, we are challenging the stigma of mental health and beginning to create a culture of care and compassion which will improve recruitment opportunities and reduce turnover rates in the industry.

Why did you launch the project?

In my late twenties I was the captain of a rugby team, was married and had two children - yet things just didn’t feel right. For years, I’d been looking at other people and wondering why my life felt bad. I guess it was a form of depression. One day I went home and, out of the blue, asked my wife for a divorce. She was of course taken aback and asked where it was coming from. This prompted me to go to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to try and figure out why I was feeling this way.

During this process, I realised that other people were experiencing these same feelings but not talking about them openly. I wanted to change this to help others. I focused on hospitality as, for a long time, I’d seen friends in the industry who had experienced difficulties but were unable to talk about it. I took it upon myself to hassle a few of my hospitality friends to have their photos taken for the project and people started contacting me to ask how they could help.

I was doing it alongside my sales job and it really escalated. I hosted a talk with a local mental health charity and 65 local hospitality professionals came along to learn about mental health. We raised some funds and word started to spread.

When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, I spent all my time trying to fight off my anxiety by building the The Burnt Chef Project. I went back to work in October 2020, quit my job and have been running the project full-time ever since. As the need for our services has continued to grow, both nationally and internationally, we too have grown - we’re now a team of five.

Why did you partner with Mental Health Innovations to offer a free, 24/7 text messaging support service to those working in the hospitality sector?

We recently conducted a survey of 1,273 hospitality professionals which showed that 8 out of 10 (84%) had experienced mental health issues within their career and 46% would not feel comfortable talking about their health concerns with their colleagues.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put enormous additional strain on our industry which was seen in the initial take-up of the text support service. Knowing so many people are using our keyword and finding the service helpful shows just how vital this type of resource is in today's hospitality climate.

Many of the mental health and wellbeing issues our teams face have been prevalent for years before the pandemic, due to the high pressure environment and levels of stress which are sadly notorious within the hospitality environment.

The wellbeing of staff should be a top priority for any thriving business and to know that we supported more than 1,500 individuals last year is great. This vital, innovative service is just one of the ways we can support the fantastic workforce that make up our industry.

What impact has the service had to date?

The stigma surrounding mental health often makes it difficult for people to speak up when they’re experiencing challenges. Research shows it often takes up to ten years for someone to speak out when experiencing poor mental health. For our community, knowing there's always someone available to talk to with no judgement is a key factor.

Our industry often works at times when others are resting or socialising, so to have a 24 hour system in place means there is always support available for our community. In fact, a third (32%) of people who use the service text between 8pm and 2am.

The main challenges people are texting the service about are anxiety or stress (accounting for 58% of conversations), depression or sadness (26%), relationships (18%), loneliness (11%), suicide (11%) and Covid-19 (8%). With 97% of texters saying the service brings them to a place of calm, it’s clear this is a crucial resource for individuals.

Feedback from hospitality professionals who have texted the service further demonstrates the difference it is making:

What does 2022 have in store for the project and your partnership?

2021 saw The Burnt Chef Project welcomed by the wider industry. This means that we’re in a strong position to further increase the reach of the tools, services and partnerships we’ve developed over the last 12 months.

Our particular focus will continue to be on developing unique and innovative ways to support hospitality individuals with their mental health through collaborations. Our keyword partnership with Mental Health Innovations will be a vital part of our offering.

We will also build The Burnt Chef Ambassador Peer-Support Network, to break down cultural and language barriers to accessing support. We will deliver training to 25 colleagues to equip future generations with the mental health and self-care tools they need to thrive at work. We’re looking forward to seeing our initial success continue to grow as we move forward in our fight to tackle the mental health epidemic we’re faced with.

To learn more about The Burnt Chef Project please visit theburntchefproject.com.

If you work in the hospitality industry and are struggling to cope, text ‘BURNTCHEF’ to 85258 any time of the day or night to start a conversation with a trained volunteer.

“[It has made me feel] more relaxed to know if I do go down a dark road again, I’ve got someone I can text and talk to.”

Feedback from male texter using the ‘BURNTCHEF’ keyword