A Vancouver non-profit is trying to change the conversation about mental health in the hospitality industry, one app at a time.
Mind the Bar started in 2017 after founder Shoel Davidson, co-owner of Vancouver eateries Dixie’s BBQ and Gringo Gastown, went public on Facebook with his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Cottell. “There was a crisis in our industry and it wasn’t being addressed openly.”
While Christmas is always a difficult time for those with mental health challenges, hospitality industry workers — facing long hours, the constant temptation of booze, and an old-school “suck it up” attitude — are especially vulnerable.
It’s easy to get sucked into a “typical restaurant industry cycle of work hard, play hard,” said Cottell, who is vice-president of Mind the Bar. “But playing hard can be damaging for people going through mental health issues.”
Last year, the fledgling organization won a US$50,000 grant to expand its services. It had planned to use the funds to pay for counselling services for industry workers who need them, but realized the money won’t get very far.
About four months ago, they were approached by colleagues from Tacofino, who were using an app called Lifeworks by human resources company Morneau Shepell.
The app offers health and wellness information, financial advice, and a 24/7 year-round online counselling service via text — something that may appeal to many hospitality workers, who skew younger, said Cottell. It also includes eight in-person counselling sessions.
It costs Mind the Gap $42 per person a year to provide the app for free to its 53 members. The organization is currently accepting applications. Members need to be at least 18 years old and work in the hospitality industry.
The goal is for people to get the care the minute they need it and not have them turn to other coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs, said Cottell.
“That’s what really spurs us into making sure people have the right resources at their fingertips,” she said.