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Working With Stigma

It’s tough working in the service industry. Uncompromising employers, workplace harassment and poor communication all too often affect worker’s sense of well-being, especially those living with mental health problems. What’s it like to feel the need to disguise a mental health issue while holding down a job? Find out from employees who work on the front lines in the coffee industry – specialty coffee shops. (“Mental Health In The Service Industry: Confronting The Stigma,” Sprudge, May 23, 2017).

Jarboe is a barista trainer with depression and anxiety. “The worst part about it is that you have to smile through the panic attack, lest the customer complains about poor service,” he said. “Your heart is going to be racing, you’re going to have terrible thoughts, and that’s just how it’s going to be.”

Employees in the accommodations and food services industry have the highest rate of substance abuse at 17 percent, compared to the national average of 9 percent, according to a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study. Another industry survey reported that 84.8 percent of restaurant managers and kitchen staff have experienced depression, 72.9 percent anxiety and 50 percent substance abuse issues.

In a sector that comprises a majority of U.S. jobs, it is critically important for employers to understand the impact of mental health and show support for their employees. “For a business owner to make the effort to educate themselves about this issue, is not only the right human thing to do – the kind human thing to do – but it’s going to help their business,” said Noma Bruton, human services consultant and founder of Sagacity HR in Costa Mesa, Calif.

That’s why Bruton calls Mental Health First Aid USA “CPR for the mind.”

“Business owners can see people working for them who are not as productive as they wish they would be,” she says. “But they don’t know what the problem is so they don’t know how to deal with the problem.”

That is exactly where Mental Health First Aid is filling the gap. This 8-hour training program takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use issues by improving understanding and providing an action plan to safely and responsibly identify and respond to such problems. When more people are equipped with the tools they need to start a dialogue, more people can get the help they may need.

“People need to feel more comfortable about having bad days,” said Megan, a lead barista at a coffee shop. “It’s better to take a break than to continue to mess something up because they can’t focus on the task in front of them – just because someone’s at work doesn’t mean the problems go away.”