In light of World Mental Health Day, head chef Alex Standen bravely talks about his personal journey with mental health and how his involvement with The Burnt Chef Project led to him becoming a mental health ambassador:
After many years of working in professional kitchens, from country house and seafront hotels to resort theme parks and contract catering, I found myself being made redundant from a job I genuinely enjoyed. I’d spent four years building a team and a style of food that worked for us, all whilst finally getting on top of the work life balance we all crave. I was still working long hours but the job satisfaction made it all worthwhile, with lots of downtime in the winter months to ensure you didn’t burn out.
Leaving this role meant I had to look for a new one and I wasn’t ready to go back to my previous life in hotels. I took a job that I thought would offer me what I was looking for – steady regular hours and creative freedom. Little did I know that when I started, my hang ups from being made redundant and the style of work I had moved too left me feeling really unhappy. I made the commitment to myself and those that hired me to give it my best shot, but sadly this wasn’t the case and I started to feel very low. The negative feelings outweighed the positive and I found myself drinking more, using alcohol as a release. After six months, i found myself having depressive thoughts and it was then I realised I had to open up to someone and start the honest conversation about where I was with my mental health.
I’d always believed that mental health issues happened to other people, not me. I’m a chef, we’re tough, we get through these things. Luckily I have an amazing wife and fantastic group of friends who listened and suggested how I could get help. I was soon offered a new role and I jumped at it with open arms with renewed determination to get back to being the chef I was before.
Having been on this journey, I’m now not only more aware of my own mental health but of others too. Going through my own struggle has made me more determined to look out for myself and others.
When I came across The Burnt Chef Project, I initially supported by buying merchandise but after rreading about their ambassador programme, I made the decision to apply. During my interview, I shared my story and it was the first time I had told it to anyone outside of my inner circle. If I’m totally honest, it felt empowering that I was able to talk to someone about it without getting emotional. I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to become an ambassador and in return, I intend to do whatever I can to help anyone in need, be it a conversation over coffee or a catch up on FaceTime.
I want people to read my story and see that there is light at the end of the tunnel even when you think there isn’t. The Burnt Chef Project are an incredible community of hospitality professionals and are there whenever you need.
If you need support, please contact our Wellbeing Team at WOW@baxterstorey.com and they will put you in touch with one of our Mental Health First Aiders.