A Step Forward

One Local Program Is Offering Free Mental Health Care for Food and Drink Workers

The Southern Smoke Foundation is helping to lead this statewide effort.

By Timothy Malcolm May 27, 2020

In a major move to further secure accessibility to health care for people working in the hospitality industry, three organizations Tuesday announced a program that will offer free mental health services for all Texas food-and-beverage employees and their children.

The Southern Smoke Foundation, Mental Health America of Greater Houston, and the University of Houston are collaborating on the effort. Conversations about this program escalated in 2018, after the suicide death of chef, writer, and cultural icon Anthony Bourdain.

"That year, UB Preserv chef de cuisine Nick Wong, Southern Smoke co-founder and Underbelly Hospitality chef/owner Chris Shepherd and I hosted a round-table discussion with visiting and local chefs that were participating in our annual Southern Smoke Festival," said Kathryn Lott, executive director of Southern Smoke, in a press release. "With the input and feedback of some of the brightest minds in the restaurant industry, we came away with this: We must remove the stigma surrounding mental health in our industry; we must be better to one another in the work place and provide a safe environment; we need to have a dedicated, industry-specific outlet for those in the food and beverage industry who are in need of mental health support."

Per the program, anyone in the food-and-beverage industry, working in Texas, and in need of mental health care can apply via Southern Smoke; a caseworker will respond and work with that person to ultimately connect to a graduate student clinician at the University of Houston. Intake interviews will be held, then prospective clients will be set up with a treatment plan and a schedule of sessions.

Students can probably take up to three clients at a time, and in the event that the number of clients outnumber capacity, therapists who have worked for Mental Health America may be used. 

The parties hope to replicate this model nationwide, in an attempt to change the outlook for many who work in the food-and-beverage industry, one known for its stressful environments and abnormal working hours.

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