Mental Health Awareness: "Man up a phrase I absolutely despise now but have been guilty of using in the past"

Alex South

Alex South


In a lot of cases, we aren’t aware of poor mental health until we’re right in the middle of it, often creating an incredibly difficult cycle to break free from.

Although we understand it's important to highlight mental health all year round, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, The Staff Canteen spoke to Alex Standen, BaxterStorey's Head Chef at the BA Concorde Room at Heathrow Airport, about his struggles with mental health, how he overcame them, and his tips for promoting good mental health.


1) Talk to someone you can trust if you're struggling, don’t bottle it up!

2) Exercise regularly and spend time outdoors

3) Eat a balanced diet and avoid binging on junk food and excessive drinking

4) Read books or listen to podcasts to help relax your mind and slow down anxious thoughts

5) Limit your time on social media


Alex has worked in hospitality his whole life, holding positions for numerous employers and kitchens over the years.

His experience in kitchens has made him no stranger to the demands placed on hospitality professionals.

 "We spend our lives working to deadlines, and they're always tight deadlines. You've got the different service types of the day, you might have functions on, and I think that just adds time pressure that a lot of other industries don't have," explained Alex.

When Alex entered hospitality, the industry was in a very different place with virtually nothing in place to mitigate or combat the early signs of fatigue or toxic attitudes amongst staff.

Describing what kitchens were like when he first started out in his career, Alex said: “When I joined, kitchens were macho, aggressive, and unpleasant places to work in. I thrived in that environment because being shouted at never seemed to bother me, but I look back at it now and think how many young chefs left the industry during that time because they couldn't deal with the way they were treated, Where would they be now? Because they had the skills."

Looking back at what effect the industry had on him, Alex explained he was able to block out the toxic elements of the job in an effort to prevent falling victim to them.

"I never felt like I struggled with mental health. I had always been quite strong, that classic macho chef opinion that we're okay, we'll get through it, 'man up' a phrase I absolutely despise now but have been guilty of using in the past," explained Alex.


Alex’s problems with mental health first began after he was made redundant from an employer he worked with for four years.

Describing his working conditions before he was made redundant, Alex explained: "I felt a little bit lost because I'd given so much to this role, really hard work for eight months of the year because it was a seasonal operation but then lots of downtime in the winter, so probably not the work life balance I was looking for at the time because I probably didn't understand exactly what I wanted, but it felt like a good balance."

After being made redundant, Alex found work with a company that he believed would offer the right hours and work life balance for him to spend time with his family before realising the job had impacted his own mental health, affecting both his professional and personal life.

"I found myself working with a team who had no interest in the food in essence, they were there for a paycheck. I really struggled with that team and it led to a little bit of conflict, followed by the senior team on site,and me not seeing eye to eye and it made it very uncomfortable," Alex explained.

The negative conditions of the role, the difficult relationship with colleagues and the strict hours that he undertook, soon took effect on Alex and it wasn’t long before he found himself drinking for a release, unhappy with where he was in his life.

Highlighting how his behaviour changed, Alex said: "I found myself drinking probably a bit more than I had. I'm not going to say I had a problem because I definitely didn't but I was drinking for a release instead of for enjoyment. It was a bit of a crutch just trying to use it to destress.”

He added: “I found myself more unhappy in the way I've felt within myself more and more, and less happy even when I was at home with my wife and my girl, I just generally found myself constantly unhappy."


The problems that Alex faced, like those that countless others have similarly experienced, tend to manifest quickly, leaving the sufferer in a bleak and hopeless situation that can be quite difficult to overcome.

For Alex, he was able to overcome them by reaching out to his family and trusted friends, and tell them honestly how he was feeling, the first step in accepting there was something wrong that he needed to fix.

"I opened up to my wife and a couple of my really close friends who aren't in the industry, and they just listened, if I'm honest. They just sat and listened to me pour my heart out about how I felt and they encouraged me to look for a new role," he described.

After talking about his problems and being encouraged to find a new role, Alex did just that and found that whilst things didn’t immediately get better, he was able to focus on something new, pinning down the causes of his poor mental health.

Discussing this in more detail Alex said: "I had learnt the trigger points for the way I was feeling. I decided I was never going to bottle those feelings up anymore and I was going to have that conversation with my wife, my friends, my boss, my team. I was going to get those feelings out as calmly and sort of emotionlessly as I can to try and make it more practical and pragmatic."

Soon after finding support and working to get over his challenges, Alex decided that he wanted to draw upon his own experiences and help other people, a decision that led him applying to the Burnt Chef Project’s mental health ambassadorship, where he could use his experiences to help support others struggling with bad mental health episodes.

Describing what it means to be a Burnt Chef Project Ambassador, Alex said: "Joining Burnt Chef Project felt incredible. Kris and his team are unbelievable, what they give back to us as ambassadors, let alone the wider hospitality community, I think is market leading."

He added: "The thing I'm most proud about with the Burnt Chef Project is watching the ambassador's come together to support each other. You put something out there saying you're struggling, within 20 minutes probably 30 or 40 people will have come back offering a phone call or chat, a nugget of advice signposting you to something maybe you haven't seen."

If this article has affected you in any way and you need someone to talk to, you may find the following 24/7 resources helpful

- The Samaritans Helpline
- The Burnt Chef Support Service
- Counselling, legal advice and support from Hospitality Action

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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 17th May 2023

Mental Health Awareness: "Man up a phrase I absolutely despise now but have been guilty of using in the past"