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Sacramento chef tackling mental health crisis in restaurant industry

Patrick Mulvaney, chef and owner of Mulvaney’s Building & Loan restaurant in Sacramento, has seen too many of his friends take their own lives. It has prompted him to work with community partners to pioneer a new mental health movement in the industry.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain killed himself last year, the news shook people around the world, but it especially rocked people in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Here in Sacramento, that community lost 12 people last year to various mental health issues, including suicide. That prompted Patrick Mulvaney to do something about mental health in his industry. He's chef and owner of Mulvaney’s Building & Loan restaurant in Sacramento

The restaurant industry is fast-paced, and Mulvaney's kitchen is no exception. That means-- a lot of stress.

"We're adrenaline junkies, we love it, don't get us wrong,” Mulvaney told ABC10 News. “But then when the stress comes out and the day is over, how do you react to that, right?"

A 2015 study ranks the hospitality and food industry highest among 19 industries for illicit drug use and 3rd highest for heavy alcohol use.

"We had a few deaths early last year, and then our friend Noah Zonca passed away in early May, so we really started to talk about it more seriously, about mental health and what our responsibility was to other people in our industry,” Mulvaney explained. “And then Anthony Bourdain passed away."

RELATED: Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain found dead in France at 61

Mulvaney and more than a dozen Sacramento chefs met with mental health experts and other community partners, to create a new program for the hospitality and restaurant industry.

"It's called 'I Got Your Back,'” Mulvaney said. “What we're working on is that every restaurant will have someone with a purple hand on their lapel that knows about mental health. So they'll be able to say to you, 'Are you okay? Are you having a problem?' But you also will know that they'll be a safe person, so you can say, 'Hey, I'm anxious or depressed.'"

Together, with multiple national and community partners -- including the James Beard Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and the Steinberg Institute -- Mulvaney is creating a movement, addressing and de-stigmatizing mental health issues in his industry.

"So the hope is, we have this 'I Got Your Back,' with the near-peer counseling piece. It'll be tied to a web portal presence that'll deliver resources for you to say either in the dark of night, to say, 'What's depression? What's suicide?’" Mulvaney said.

The plan combines technology and relationships, to save lives in the service industry.

"If we can create an environment where there is conversation, where we see people healing - because you can get better,” Mulvaney said, “and that can only come if there is an ability to talk about it.”

After all, food is about coming together. And in a community, we are not alone.

If you or someone you love are considering hurting yourself, help is available.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 
    1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE
  • 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Crisis Line
    (916) 368 3111 or 1-800-273-8255

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