Colorado’s restaurant industry tackles mental health issues with therapy

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First, the pandemic has closed restaurants. Then the industry changed overnight.

Why is this important: Recurring crises pose a profound threat to the mental health of restaurant workers — more than any other industry, says Heather Lundy, licensed counselor and founder of Khesed Wellness in Denver.

Threat level: Most servers, cooks, chefs, and others in the hospitality industry live paycheck to paycheck, and financial insecurity makes dealing with crisis situations more stressful. It also increases rates of anxiety, addiction, depression, and other mental health issues.

  • The main obstacle to care is limited health insurance, as 70% of employees in the industry are uninsured, Khesed officials said.
  • “We’re seeing more intense levels of what we’re all going through,” Lundy tells us.

What is happening: The situation led the Colorado Restaurant Association Foundation to expand its Angel Relief Fund – who offers grants of $1,000 industry employees to cover confidential mental health care sessions.

  • The fund started during the pandemic, but its reach is expanding as crises persist, according to association officials.
  • This week Denver Food and Wine Festival is a fundraiser for the effort.

How it works: Khesed, a non-profit organization, offers at least 16 sessions to grant recipients offering them at least half the usual cost. It also raises funds to provide additional free sessions for those without coverage, as well as discounted options for continuing care.

  • Appointments can take place virtually, which can be helpful for those in areas that lack providers.

Yes, but: A significant barrier, Lundy says, is distrust of the mental health system because of negative experiences or cultural barriers, such as language and identifying as LGBTQ.

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