Sep 7, 2022 - Business

How Colorado is tackling a mental health crisis in restaurants

Illustration of repeating dinner plate emojis with smiley faces on them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

First, the pandemic shut down restaurants. Then, the industry changed overnight.

Why it matters: The recurrent crises are threatening the mental health of restaurant workers in profound ways — more than any other industry, says Heather Lundy, a licensed counselor and founder of Khesed Wellness in Denver.

Threat level: Most servers, cooks, chefs and others in the hospitality industry are living paycheck to paycheck, and financial insecurity makes dealing with crisis situations more stressful. It also boosts rates of anxiety, addiction, depression and other mental health conditions.

  • The primary impediment to care is limited health insurance, as 70% of the industry's employees are uninsured, Khesed officials said.
  • "We're seeing more intense levels of what we're all going through," Lundy tells us.

What's happening: The situation led the Colorado Restaurant Association's foundation to expand its Angel Relief Fund — which provides $1,000 grants to industry employees to cover confidential mental health care sessions.

  • The fund got off the ground during the pandemic, but is expanding in scope as the crises persist, according to association officials.
  • This week's Denver Food and Wine Festival is a fundraiser for the effort.

How it works: Khesed, a nonprofit, provides at least 16 sessions to grant recipients by offering them at least half the typical cost. It also fundraises to provide additional free sessions to those who lack coverage, as well as discounted options for continued care.

  • Appointments can take place virtually, which can be helpful for those in areas that lack providers.

Yes, but: One significant obstacle, Lundy says, is distrust of the mental health system from negative experiences or cultural barriers, such as language and identifying as LGBTQ.


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