A former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist has spoken out about his struggle with depression for Mental Health Awareness Week (14 to 20 May).
Andi Walker, executive chef of the Riverside Inn in Chelmsford, tweeted: “please retweet … and for f*** sake speak up! #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2018.”
Walker felt encouraged to speak out following the attempted suicides of three of his close friends. He said: “The main reason I’m speaking out is in the past few months I’ve seen three friends of mine struggle so much that they thought the only way out is to do the unthinkable.
“I’m not going to go into my life and why this horrible illness has chosen me, but it has and I’ve had to deal with it,” it continued. “To see these people think they have nowhere to go really upsets me.”
The hospitality industry is unfortunately known for sky-high rates of mental health issues, alcoholism and drug abuse. The pressure of working long hours, the impact of stress and exhaustion and the demanding strife for accolades, among other factors, can all take their toll.
Walker continued: “Whilst filming MasterChef [The Professionals 2015] I was at my lowest. I have no idea how I got through it and am still shocked that I got so far. No one would believe the things I went through to be able to get through it, and I have all my mates on the show to thank for that, they didn’t know my struggles but their help and friendship was more than I ever could have asked for.”
However, Walker also praises the industry saying: “It gives me a sense of where I belong. I can hide from the world in my kitchen.”
It ends with a plea for people to reach out and ask for help if they’re feeling desperate as Walker credits his friends for pulling him through the bad days. It reads: “You’re not alone and there is always someone that can help, I’m very lucky I have an amazing few mates who support me and help me through the bad times and I’m glad to say the hard times are behind me.”
Speaking to The Caterer, Walker said he wanted “for others to see that they are not alone”. He believes the issue “has to be spoken about” more openly.
He said since the post went live yesterday, he has been overwhelmed by support and is currently in liaison with several chefs who want to meet to discuss launching an awareness campaign in the future.
MasterChef: The Professionals 2016 contestant Wayne Sullivan commented: “Many chefs could do with taking a leaf from your book, mate. Heartfelt, brutal and honest. Sadly the macho bullshit that seems to envelope the industry puts paid to anyone admitting they’re struggling…”
Michael Carl Wilkinson, head chef of the Star Inn The City said: “You are a true inspiration and one of the most genuine and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing your honesty is a true marvel. Much love brother.”
Walker said: “I’m finally at a stage in my life where I feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted people to know that it’s ok not to be ok.”