Yesterday, I took a moment to give thanks to a number of people in the Kansas City restaurant community I am incredibly grateful for.  Today, I feel there is an issue in this community that I can no longer ignore.  Last week we suffered a tremendous loss as a community when one of our brightest Chef/Owners took his own life.  I never had the chance to meet this Chef, but we had a great deal in common.  We were the same age and worked just blocks apart.  We ran in the same circles and my social networks were immediately filled by friends expressing their grief and disbelief.  I have spent a great deal of time over the last week thinking about what happened.  I have deliberated at length whether or not I have any right to write about this topic.  I keep coming to the same conclusion.  Until as an industry we can be honest about this issue, we will keep losing some of our best and brightest unnecessarily.

The restaurant industry has distinct differences that set us apart.  We work odd hours that strain relationships with friends and family outside of the business.  This results in deep bonds with co-workers who share our lifestyle.  Too often this lifestyle includes an unhealthy amount of partying and late nights spent together at the bar.  We are taught to leave our troubles at the door.  Putting on a mask and playing the role of a happy server, chef, or bartender is part of what makes us successful.  It is also a large part of the problem.

We as an industry must be willing to admit that we have failed to address the issues of depression, substance abuse, and isolation that are rampant in our community.  The rates of suicide and death due to unhealthy lifestyles caused by depression in the restaurant industry are unacceptable.  We do not do enough to provide opportunities for people to seek help.  We have made it a sign of weakness to ask for help.  We are failing to take care of our own.

It is time for some honesty on this issue and time for some frank acknowledgement of the problem.

I have lost friends and family in this way.  I can say that I could just as easily have been another statistic.  I am grateful everyday to some friends who saw the signs and reached out in time.  It is not something I like to admit and it is not something I acknowledge publicly.  This is part of the problem though.  As long as our pride, ego, and machismo prevent us from reaching out to others and letting them know they are not alone, tragedies will continue to strike our community.

I am not sure what the next step is.  I am working on a concept that I hope can come to fruition.  I am trying to work on a model program that can be launched in other cities around the country.  There is also strength in others acknowledging that there is a problem and they can relate.  Stand up for those around you by letting them know that they are not alone.  Take the late night call, spend some time with people you see are in pain, ask the tough questions, and give someone a hug today.  No one in our community should ever feel alone.

That is the conclusion I keep coming to.  We are a community.  The things that set restaurant employees apart from other industries are the things that we all share.  A loss anywhere in this community is felt throughout it.  We all share in this sort of loss.  We also all share in the responsibility to try to prevent the next loss.  This responsibility means that we have to admit that there is a problem and let others know that they are not alone.  The greatest tribute we can pay to those we could not save is to reach the next person before it is too late.