Sunday 18 February 2018

'I was on the verge of taking my own life' - Chef on the impact the career can have on mental health

Darren Tapley pictured with his wife Rachael
Darren Tapley pictured with his wife Rachael
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A chef has spoken about the impact the difficult career can have on mental health and said he considered taking his own life at his lowest point.

Darren Tapley (44), who lives in Cobh Co. Cork, worked as a chef for more than 20 years before he was diagnosed with acute anxiety and depression in 2015. The chef opened up about the impact the high pressure environment of the kitchen can have on mental wellbeing.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Darren said: "Most chefs are hired on a 40 hour contract, but they almost never work those hours. They're pulling 60 hours weeks easily and it's just something that's expected of them. Chefs rarely get a break, you're working in such a high pressure environment and in 40C heat most of the time. You don't get the chance to eat and drink, at the end of the day you're just shoving calories into your body.

"A lot of chefs fall back heavily on alcohol and drugs. They hit the booze after a long day in the kitchen and use drugs to get going in the morning again," said Darren.

Darren, who is from Leicester in the UK but moved to Cork nine years ago, said the career impacts all areas of chefs' personal lives.

"It's a very anti-social career. It's hard to keep relationships going, your friendships fall to the wayside and your relationships suffer. It's a career of highs and lows and I found that was often reflected in my moods and my relationships which made it harder to keep friendships.

"If you look at the statistics compared to other careers, chefs have higher divorce rates, higher suicide rates and higher rates of addiction. It also can have an impact on fertility because you're in a hot kitchen all the time."

The chef reached his lowest point in 2015, when he considered taking his own life. He was working between 70 and 100 hours each week managing his own catering business, when he thankfully opened up to his wife about his ill mental health.

"I had really run myself into the ground.

"I was just in a really bad place. I was permanently tired, I was mentally tired. One day I just told my wife I needed help. I was on the verge of taking my own life and I knew that if I kept going on as I was I would."

"I had been thinking about taking my own life and it scared me, but the moment I knew I need to get help was when I stopped caring. I stopped being scared and I accepted that it was just something that was going to happen. I think that's the most dangerous point you can reach, when you just accept you're going to die.

"I'm so lucky that I did let my wife know how I was feeling, and through a friend who works with the Red Cross, I made contact with Pieta House."

The chef said he made the mistake that many people do, and returned to work before he was ready in January 2016.

"After Christmas, I felt better and I thought I'd be able to handle going back. I went back running kitchens in Cork City but I only lasted seven weeks. I wasn't well and I needed to give myself that time."

Darren has not returned to the kitchen and is working towards getting better but said he believes he would not get another job in the food industry because the stigma surrounding mental health is so strong.

"I haven't returned to work, and I'm not sure I could ever return to the kitchen."

"There's a massive stigma in this industry. After what I've been through I don't think anyone would ever take me on again."

The chef credited the "wonderful" work of Pieta House, who he said pulled him out of a really dark place. Darren is now working towards completing a challenge to cycle 900 miles in 30 days, in said of the organisation.

"There is such a huge relief that comes once you just start talking. It's almost like a valve. With Pieta House I felt like I could speak freely about what I was going through, to people who I knew would not judge me.

"I wanted to set myself a goal this year, and give myself a purpose and a target so I'm cycling 900 miles in 30 days to raise funds for Pieta House. I'll be keeping a video diary on Youtube and I've set up a Facebook page for people to hopefully follow. It's for a great cause because the work they do is wonderful."

To donate to Darren's campaign visit www.gofundme.com

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans on 116123 for support or visit the website on www.samaritans.org.

Pieta House can be contacted on 1800 247 247.  For more information on Pieta House visit www.pieta.ie.

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