Walking the Dogs – part 4: David Ramsden on mental health issues in the hospitality industry

Walking the Dogs – part 4: David Ramsden on mental health issues in the hospitality industry

Edinburgh restaurateur concludes his reminiscences on his life in hospitality, and the challenges of suffering anorexia, with some reflections on our understanding of mental health in the music and restaurant industries

There is a growing, or certainly more public, awareness of #mentalhealth, but it's also a double-edged sword.

As communication becomes ever more sophisticated, so has peoples' awareness of their, and others', psychological and emotional states. There exists a lot more time to consider such matters, alongside the contradictory fact that the modern world which gives us sophisticated communication also seems to add to the considerable pressure many people live and work live under. There appears to be a tension between indulgence and understanding.

To myself, it is a tightrope, because, as a recovering anorexic, I still, at 65 years of age, possess that need for absolute control over pretty much everything, especially if it involves my own business and responsibilities. I will dedicate all my time and energy to keeping everything in balance.

Generally, this appears to be a positive attribute, but sometimes there is a tipping into neurotic and negative behaviours. This can have an adverse effect on staff, customers and suppliers. Because I have this drive to micro-control, it has, until more recently, been hard to understand and empathise with those who have a different idea of a work/life balance. This could be the enjoyment of social life, cultural activities, family commitments, or even just relaxation. If that boundary is stretched too far, it can too easily create anxiety, resentment and even depression.

Both rock 'n' roll and the restaurant worlds are pretty demanding environments, involving pressure, competition and often some conflict. The two industries aren't unique – it's clear that many occupations and professions possess as many or even more pressures – but these are the ones I have most experience of, and can examine.

When it comes to mental health, along with overwork, the pair of elephants in the room of these industries are drink and drugs. It is common for many to use either, or both, as an relief from either the drudge or the pressure of their work. Again, it is somewhat unclear as to whether drink and or drugs is actually such a big problem in mental health.

No doubt they can be, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support it. However, I wonder how much is down to choice as opposed to need, i.e. an addiction.

It has been my experience that the majority of staff can handle having fun and will come to work in a fit condition – it only comes up in conversation that they had had a wild night. I can count on one hand the times I have had to send anyone home for over-indulgence, and therefore a risk to themselves or the public.

One additional factor in mental health I have a fascination with is the fear of success. I feel I've spent a career almost making a success, but never actually succeeding. With some musicians I worked with, the closer the goal appeared, the more there was resistance, and even self-sabotage. The very thing they thought was so desirable became a vale of horrors, and off came the wheels.

This variety of affliction I have also witnessed in restaurants, when staff (in all departments, floor and kitchen) take on a position, and then, over time, realise, even though they are very capable, that they no longer wish to follow the path. It could be there was a simple change of mind, but often it's clear that the outcome of success in their chosen field is more threatening.

Of course I wonder if I am not as guilty as the next in terms of self-sabotage. While I have witnessed many variations of the above conditions over the years, both in the music business and in owning/running hospitality outlets, none of it discounts the fact that everybody is unique, and has their own mental states that they go through life with, and therefore bring to work with them. I still wonder how much mental health can be over-emphasised and worried over when, in fact, they are all part of the (incredibly) complex human condition.

Yes, #mentalhealth is an issue in our ever-more complicated lives, but it is also a fact of life. Very few people are unaffected completely, if any; therefore it behoves us, where possible, to deal with it as best we can, but NOT to be ashamed, and not to keep it hidden. If the issues are out in the open, there is the chance that the air and light will lessen the impact; and that empathy may well be forthcoming, sometimes from the most unexpected quarter. Being nicer to ourselves, and to those around us, is a great place to start.

For support, advice and information on issues of mental health within the hospitality industry, go to hospitalityhealth.org.uk

P.S. Having written the four piece in this series, seen them published, and received some moving feedback, I would like to add how much I look back and am so grateful for the support I have received over the years. They are mostly folk who had really no idea of my condition, but who supported and nurtured me through the darkest times. It is a symptom to withdraw and become self absorbed, so I cannot apologise, but I can acknowledge how grateful I am.

Thank you: Roz McKnight; family; David and Alison Hughes; Tim Maguire; Donald Reid; Charlie Miller and family, and too many more to mention. I wouldn't be here without the support and understanding. #mentalhealth

Catch up on the other parts of the series of 'Walking the Dogs': David Ramsden's life and career in restaurants: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3