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Sobering Thoughts to Keep a Safe Attitude

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants and bars across the Twin Cities, the 1,300 restaurant workers whose employers offered mental health benefits through Serving Those Serving already were using the services at 3x the national rate. 

And as expected, the call volume has increased significantly now that the ongoing pandemic is creating unprecedented chaos and uncertainty. “Everyone’s in survival mode,” said Sarah Norton, founder of Serving Those Serving, an organization that offers mental health insurance plans to restaurants, through Sand Creek Workplace Wellness.

Efforts to sign up companies for mental health insurance are at a standstill, so Norton has had to switch gears. Even in normal times, mental health coverage is perceived as “the deluxe package on a new auto, even though it’s part of the engine,” she said. 

So in this new landscape, where restaurants can’t afford “the deluxe package,” Norton is looking at alternative funding to keep the program going, such as grants for innovation and government loan programs. 

Brent Frederick, CEO of Jester Concepts, who offers his employees the plan by adding a small surcharge to customers’ bills, said, this is definitely a time staff has a lot of stress and needs. “In our communications to them, we have made sure to include the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) info and hotline number for Sand Creek,” he said. “It’s instrumental, with the shelter in place, to be able to speak with someone regarding a multitude of issues including mortgage relief assistance, child care, parental care, struggles with addiction and support for general well-being and mental health.”

With the job’s pressures of low pay, long physical hours and dealing with the general public, mental health issues and alcohol abuse are big concerns of the hospitality industry. Throw in shelter in place and the odds are even greater.

The suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in June 2018 placed a spotlight on mental health in the foodservice industry, as well as alcohol use. And a number of programs have popped up offering help to foodservice employees. One is Black and Blue, started by Kate Meier and Trent Taher of BA Craftmade Aprons, which gives money to industry workers experiencing hardships. The national program is funded by a line of Black and Blue aprons and donations. Recipients are nominated or can be self-nominated by filling out a form on the BA Craftmade Aprons website.

For people who don’t have a plan in place, there are plenty of other options for both finding a counselor via phone or for dealing with substance abuse. 

Now is the time to download the free Zoom online meeting platform, and for learning how to use Facetime or apps that allow you to see the person or people you’re talking to. 

The National Alliance on Mental Health has a hotline, 1-800-950-6264 or email info@nami.org for referrals.

People who rely on Alcoholics Anonymous’ in-person meetings to stay sober can find online versions of either their existing group or a new virtual group. To find virtual meetings, go to www.aa.org for AA meetings and https://virtual-na.org for NA. Or you can download the app, AA Big Book Free on iPhones and Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous on Android phones. 

In addition, residential programs are still operating. Hazelden Betty Ford posted on its website new safety procedures for keeping patients and staff safe during this pandemic, to ensure that people in need of entering a residential program know they can still apply. 

Social isolation is hard on both people who live alone and people who are now home-schooling their children and dealing with pets and family while on work calls. 

So keep busy while you wait for your restaurant to reopen, find a hobby, exercise, keep in touch with friends and family via Skype or Facetime and, as Sarah Norton of Serving Those Serving says, “Be nice to yourself.” 

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