London

New mental health campaign for hospitality workers much needed, says local server

The Smart Serve Cares campaign offers resources, including three hours of free mental health counselling, to all people who hold a Smart Serve certificate, which is required by the province for all people who serve alcohol while working in the hospitality industry.

Hospitality workers face burnout and lack of access to affordable mental health support, says advocate

Smart Serve Cares is a new campaign that provides mental health support for Smart Serve certificate holders.
Smart Serve Cares is a new campaign that provides mental health support for Smart Serve certificate holders. (CBC News)

A new effort to bring free mental health resources to workers in the hospitality industry is being hailed as a good first step by a London server, and by an advocacy organization that worked to make it happen.

The Smart Serve Cares campaign offers resources, including three hours of free mental health counselling, to all people who hold a Smart Serve certificate, which is required by the province for all people who serve alcohol while working in the hospitality industry.

"Mental health is the highest priority. The highest level. It's just like your physical health. It's so important to keep it in shape," said Alicia D'Ariano, who is a part-time server at a London restaurant.

She says she's spent over a decade in the hospitality industry.

"I'm just really excited to see that there's an actual service for people who might not have work benefits."

The campaign is a collaboration between charity Smart Serve Ontario, health insurance agency GreenShield, and Not 9 to 5, a non-profit that advocates for the mental health of hospitality workers. In its current form, it includes, in addition to three hours of free counselling, free access to online resources that range from learning modules to articles and other educational materials.

According to D'Ariano, the need for mental health supports for people in the hospitality industry can't be understated. 

She said she used to regularly go to counselling for her mental health, but with the cost of living increasing, and the lack of workplace benefits typically seen in the industry, she hasn't been able to go for almost a year.

"I'm part time now, and I work in a really great environment, but when I was hustling in university and doing full-time school too, you're burnt out, you're tired. I can't emphasize it enough," said D'Ariano, who also works in education.

Alicia D'Ariano works parti-time in education, and part-time as a server at a London restaurant. She says mental health supports for hospitality workers could make significant differences in peoples' lives.
Alicia D'Ariano works part time in education, and part time as a server at a London restaurant. She says mental health supports for hospitality workers could make significant differences in peoples' lives. (Alicia D'Ariano)

With the level of need for mental health supports D'Ariano sees, though, she said she believes the three hours of free counselling doesn't go quite far enough.

"At least it's a start. Mental health is something you definitely have to work at, so I don't think three hours will meet everyone's needs," she said. "But I think it's amazing that this is happening in the first place."

Hassel Aviles sees the program as a good start, as well. 

"It's a great step in the right direction, and a few hours of virtual therapy can get you a lot further than zero hours," said Aviles, the executive director and co-founder of Not 9 to 5.

Not 9 to 5 got involved with the program after a survey conducted by the non-profit across 700 hospitality professionals found high rates of burnout, depression, disordered eating, and anxiety, she said.

She attributed some of those issues to long hours, hard work, difficult customer interactions and low pay.

"Oftentime employees don't seek help with these types of issues because of financial reasons," Aviles said. "Lowering the barrier for support is crucial."

While the campaign has launched and is available at the Smart Serve Ontario website, Aviles added there's still more to look forward to.

This fall, a new phase of the campaign will include a certification course for workplace mental health and more industry-specific support material.