Let’s talk about men’s mental health in hospitality.
International Men’s Day is a day to focus on the health and wellbeing of men and celebrate the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities. All of which made us think, for the past two years we have run campaigns to recognise International Women’s Day, but we haven’t done the same for International Men’s Day.
So that’s what we’re doing this year, talking to our teams about the stigma of men’s physical and mental health in hospitality, and celebrating the men who make so much difference in our lives.
We caught up with our Learning and development manager Adam Leydon, who explains why International Men’s Day matters and what he’s doing to improve our guys’ wellbeing at Hawksmoor.
Reducing the stigma. That’s where the work in improving men’s mental health begins.
“You can’t underestimate how hard it is for many men to talk about how they’re feeling,” says Adam, our learning and development manager. “I think some still feel it’s a sign of weakness. But, for me, being able to talk about your struggles is the opposite.”
Talking is exactly what he’ll be doing on the evening of Monday 20th November at Reducing the Stigma: Men’s Mental Health in Hospitality. This special International Men’s Day event is being organised by charity Kelly’s Cause, whose vital work is to create a mentally healthy hospitality industry.
“It’s a really important event and topic – I’m really excited about it,” says Adam, who’ll be on hosting duties. “On the panel, there’ll be four talented men from the hospitality industry and we’re going to be hearing about their journeys within mental health.”
Speakers include Emeka Frederick (co-founder at Chuku’s), Craig Prentice (founder at Mum), Dom Taylor (head chef at The Langham) and Daniel Thompson (director of operations at Maslow’s). Tickets include complimentary drinks from our sponsors, Blacklines & Howling Hops.
It’s telling that simply having men talk about their mental health in a room full of people feels like a unique event. “But I think that’s powerful in itself,” says Adam. “If we can reduce the stigma about speaking up, even with the people in the room, then that’ll be a win.”
Practising what he preaches, Adam is candid about why this subject matters to him. For much of his childhood, Adam and his father were estranged. “My dad suffered from severe depression,” he says. “After my parents’ divorce, his mental health was so poor that he lived with his brother for 15 years – mostly as a recluse.”
Things eventually improved and, when Adam was 19, his father reached out. “We had a lovely conversation – it felt like the foundation we both needed to begin rebuilding a relationship,” he says.
Sadly, though, his father died of chest infection just a few months later. “My dad’s poor mental health cost him a huge chunk of his life,” says Adam. “That’s always been prominent in my mind.”
Why International Men’s Day matters
While mental health has always had a special significance, Adam admits that International Men’s Day has only recently been on his radar.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about why this day is so important,” he says. “I realised that we really need to be acknowledging the fact that there is clearly a huge challenge when it comes to men’s mental health.”
Like many of us, Adam has lost male friends and colleagues to suicide, but the statistics show just how severe the issue is: three out of four suicides in the UK are men; globally, one man dies by suicide every 60 seconds.
“It’s incredibly saddening,” he says. “Men, as a demographic, are often thought of as being in a position of privilege rather than a group with its own challenges and discrimination.”
For Adam, International Men’s Day is a means of promoting equity so we can begin to identify the challenges all groups face. And that’s what he hopes to do at the event this coming Monday. “Bringing people together and allowing them to share their personal story in this way can be really powerful,” he says.
Support at Hawksmoor
Over the past few years, Adam has had his own battles with anxiety. “At times it’s been at an unhealthy level,” he admits. But through talking openly about it, and seeking help, he’s been able to manage things.
At Hawksmoor, all staff have access to Hospitality Action’s 24-hour helpline and Help at Hand’s unlimited mental health counselling. “I’ve used them both myself this year and have been blown away by the service,” he says. “To be honest, without that, I don’t know if I’d have sought help in another way.”
‘Support’ is one of Hawksmoor’s five core values, which manifests in a variety of ways: recruiting managers who are naturally empathetic, training people in mental health first aid and keeping track of everyone’s hours are just a few.
“As part of a restaurant’s business report, each GM has to file the number of hours done by the team. Just to make sure that no one’s working too many hours,” Adam explains. “If someone’s consistently working overtime action is taken.”
With help from Kelly’s Cause, Hawksmoor has also created a bespoke mental health policy, which not only aims to promote positive wellbeing, but also share our understanding of what mental health actually is.
How you can help
As the emotional video recently released by Norwich City football club suggests, signs that someone is struggling can be difficult to spot. The one thing Adam encourages is to keep a look out for any changes in behaviour.
“It’s also really important to ask men how they are,” he says. “But you have to break through initial ‘Fine thanks, you?’ response to make sure they know you mean it.”
Adam suggests asking a second time – or even a third. Opening up, being honest and showing your own vulnerability is powerful, too. “It gives people licence to open up themselves,” he says.
Most importantly, remember just how difficult many men find it to talk. “I’d encourage people to simply say that they’re there for their male friends and colleagues. But to keep on repeating that message,” he says. “We often need to hear something several times for it to sink in. And to feel it’s safe to share our emotions.”
So, to our dads, grandfathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and the other boys and men in our families; to our male friends or boyfriends; to the brilliant men who work as managers, waiters, bartenders, chefs, in reservations or in our Support Team; and to all the men who eat in our restaurants … thank you.
We always set out not to be one of those ultra-blokey steakhouses, but we hope you know that having you guys in our restaurants is one of the joys of our lives.
If you’re struggling, there’s lots of resources out there.
Hospitality Action – 0808 802 0282 (always open)
Mind – 0300 123 3393 (Open 9am-6pm weekdays)
Samaritans – 116 123 (always open)
CALM – 0800 58 58 58 (Open 5pm – midnight)