Mental Health and Hospitality: A Q&A With Kelly’s Cause

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5 min read

May 26, 2023

Mental Health and Hospitality: A Q&A With Kelly’s Cause

During a recent interview, we had the privilege of conversing with Rachel Kerr-Lapsley, Managing Director of Kelly’s Cause. Join us as we delve into the purpose driving Kelly’s Cause, their remarkable efforts to dismantle stigmas surrounding mental health, and other compelling insights shared by Rachel.

Kelly’s Cause is the leading provider of Mental Health First Aid Training to the hospitality industry. Why did K.C get specifically involved in the world of hospitality? Tell us more about Kelly’s Cause!

Tobie-Anna Durk, the founder of Kelly’s Cause, trained at the Cordon Bleu in London. There, she met her friend Kelly, and they both graduated and started their careers in professional kitchens. Two years after they graduated, Tobie-Anna was the head chef at a popular restaurant in London, and her friend Kelly had sadly passed away. She took her own life at the age of just 23. 

After Kelly’s death, Tobie-Anna knew something had to change. Rates of poor mental health in the hospitality industry were (and still are) far above the national average, and there was virtually no training that was specifically tailored to those who work in the hospitality industry. She founded Kelly’s Cause to train folks in hospitality in Mental Health First Aid and create a mentally healthy hospitality industry for all. 

Since then Kelly’s Cause has trained over 1,400 people in hospitality spanning over 209 different venues. 

The whole team at Kelly’s Cause is composed of folks with long careers in hospitality. Could anyone other than a chef walk into a room full of chefs and get them talking about their feelings? We know the unique challenges of this industry because we have walked through them. Our training focuses on real-life situations those working in hospitality face on a day-to-day basis. It provides a safe space for people to share their experiences and feel supported. 

What are some of the biggest stigmas surrounding mental health that you’ve witnessed in the hospitality industry?

One of the biggest stigmas we see surrounds who can experience poor mental health. Mental health is something we all have and it is in constant flux. The perception that the folks we work with who seem superhuman, pulling all the hours and smashing through service, is evidence of them doing ok. This is a dangerous misconception that we work to combat. 

It’s easy to see the industry as a place where showing any kind of vulnerability is a weakness or makes you somehow less good at your job. Experiencing poor mental health is not a weakness – it’s the reality of being a human. Especially a human who works in a stressful industry that can really struggle to provide a good work/life balance. The reality is, showing vulnerability and modeling different ways of working and taking care of yourself is a massive strength and works to change the industry for the better. 

The mission of Kelly’s Cause is to be committed to changing the industry for the better, through training, education and support. How do you achieve this mission every day across the industry? 

It’s all about equipping businesses and individuals with practical tools that can help them and the people around them. Awareness around mental health is important, but we also need action to affect industry-wide change. It’s great to know what a panic attack is, but if you don’t know how to support your team member who is currently having one in the walk-in fridge, then the industry will continue to fail the people that comprise it.

Our primary tool is our hospitality-specific mental health training. We also work with member businesses to build bespoke mental health policies for their teams and create strategies to integrate mental health support into the way that they operate. It is a priority for us to create tools for individuals and teams that allow them to take action around mental health in their workplace.

We also host events open to anyone in the industry, like our International Women’s Day Panel. We love to bring folks together to talk about the challenges we face in hospitality and destigmatize having open discussions. The industry is really in its infancy in terms of wellbeing; the more we talk to one another, the more we can learn, share knowledge, and support all the people and places that are really taking care of their people and affecting positive change. 

Kelly’s Cause produces the Beyond the Pass Podcast, why is it important to have your message of mental health awareness shared on different channels?

Because we all have so much hospo experience, we know that a lot of folks in the industry won’t have the time or the cash to join us on training or at an event. Some might not use social media. Some might not enjoy reading in English, and some may be too tired to read at all – we are a wildly diverse industry. By having different mediums of communication, including a podcast that you can pop on headphones while you prep or listen to on your commute to work, we can make sure that conversations around mental health are reaching as many folks in the industry as possible. 

Where do you see the future of mental health resources going as technology evolves each and every day?

I must confess that technology scares the pants off me on a personal level, but even I, a tech plebe, can see the incredible opportunity in terms of accessibility as tech evolves. The fact that I can take a picture of a list of resources or information and my phone can translate that into any language in 2 seconds? Amazing and essential in an industry as diverse as the hospitality industry. 

Tech also brings us this amazing multitude of resources we didn’t have easy access to before. People will experience mental health differently depending on all kinds of factors, including race, sexuality, gender, and class. Traditionally, mental health resources that were most easily accessible ignored these experiences completely. The internet and social media have opened up access to organizations and individuals that are understanding and advocating a perspective on mental health that is truly intersectional. Not to mention resources that take into account the reality of mental health in communities that have been historically ignored. 

We are a really small team, and the resources, individuals, and communities we have connected with through social media allow us to continually work towards being as inclusive and intersectional in our approach as we can be. Being able to easily connect folks that we support to great organizations like Be Inclusive Hospitality, Black CHEFS Collective, Queers in Food + Bev, and many others is essential. 

What resources does Kelly’s Cause provide for operators who are looking to invest in and support a mentally healthy work environment for their teams?

We provide a wide range of mental health support, including memberships, mental health training, policy consultation, and mental health strategies. We assess what the needs of the business are to make actionable change around mental health in that workplace; sometimes that looks like sending a supervisor to a mental health first aid open course, and sometimes it’s a membership, which is an ongoing relationship between a business and Kelly’s Cause.

We are really focused on making sure the resources and support we provide are specifically suited to the needs of an individual business. Strategies and resources that work incredibly well for a hotel that has 400 employees will be different from those that would work for a food truck operator that has five! It’s all about understanding where you are in terms of mental health, what your goals are, and how we can help you reach them. 

What do you see as the biggest barrier to ending mental health stigma, specifically in hospitality?

There is often a reluctance to identify the elements of the industry that exacerbate poor mental health. Touting a 70-hour work week as a badge of honor. Having no ability to disconnect during time off. Physical and emotional abuse being excused as the cost of a high pressure kitchen. These realities that exist in the industry are things that affect mental health enormously. We must identify them in order to destigmatize the effect those working conditions have on our wellbeing.  

Once we are able to reduce stigma, we can find alternative ways of working. When vulnerability, accountability, and honesty come from leaders in a business or an industry, we can start to really move the dial on stigma.

Thank you so much for chatting with us today! What are some ways people can get involved with Kelly’s Cause?

Thank you so much for letting me bang on! And thank you guys for all the work you’re doing to support positive mental health in the industry. 

Come to training! Fundraise for us! Slide into our DM’s for chat! We love to hear from folks from all corners of the industry. You can find us on our social media channels – @kellyscause or email us at [email protected]

Kelly’s Cause offers Mental Health First Aid courses designed by, and for, folks working in hospitality. 

Participants will learn practical skills to spot the signs of a number of different mental health issues and develop the confidence needed to support a person in a mental health crisis. MHFA courses are supported by Mental Health First Aid England and accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health.

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