Suicide of Cochrane chef highlights mental health concerns for restaurant workers amid COVID-19

A Cochrane couple is grieving the death of their young son who died by suicide last month.

Now they’re hoping to raise awareness about the stress facing people in the culinary industry as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the restaurant business.

Skyler Wallinder was competitive skier, rugby player and a chef at Calgary restaurant.

Read more: Mental Health Series: identifying and managing stress

“Skyler was adventurous and passionate and he was sensitive and caring.  Numerous people have come up to me since his passing and talked about how he brightened up the room,” said Nina Wallinder, Sklyer’s mom.

“He actively worked to uplift those around him and yet he struggled with anxiety. He was just so easy-going. It just breaks my heart to know what he was holding inside.”

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Nina said Skyler was open to talking about mental health and helped others who were dealing with their struggles. She also talked about depression and suicide with him at their home in Cochrane.

Nina and Skyler Wallinder
Nina and Skyler Wallinder. Courtesy: Nina Wallinder

“We will never know why he held that inside. My thought is that he most likely didn’t want to bring anyone down,” Nina said.

He died by suicide on April 18. Nina says Skyler told her he worried about job security and about contracting the virus.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19’s impact on mental health' COVID-19’s impact on mental health

COVID-19’s impact on mental health

“I think COVID made everything exponentially worse. I think that if there hadn’t been a pandemic I think my son would still be here,” Nina said.

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An official with the Canadian Mental Health Association says there are higher mental health needs in the hospitality sector caused by shift work, health concerns and uncertain employment.

“Any industry that has had that stop-and-start during the pandemic. Speaking specifically to the pandemic, all of them are experiencing that extra layer of stress that those of us who have had full-time employment really don’t understand,” said Karen Gallagher-Burt the Director of Philanthropy and Stewardship with the Canadian Mental Health Association Calgary Region.

“They are trying to provide a service for us and that inconsistency of messaging is really difficult for them particularly but also on their mental health.  It’s not just precarious employment it’s precarious mental health,” Gallagher-Burt said.

She said it’s important that people start asking those around them more in-depth questions about how they are feeling.

“We’ve seen this throughout the pandemic. You have to stop asking people ‘how are you?’ and start asking them ‘how are you today?’ Start asking a little more in-depth questions. We know that people are not naturally going to share their mental health,” Gallagher-Burt said.

Read more: A year into the pandemic, mental health workers face burnout and soaring demands

Skyler’s family is now raising funds to support the mental health of those in the culinary field.

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“There has to be something deeper so it is normal to reach out and normal to be able to say I am struggling and within this industry to be able to support their unique blend of challenges. I think it’s important to place a focus on that area because it meant so much to Skyler,” Nina said.

“I can’t not look back and wonder and at the same time I also want to remember Skyler for the joy he spread in the world. It’s unquestionably tough and I will carry it with me all my life,” Nina said.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

If you are in need of support, you can call Health Link at 811 or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.

AHS has resources for getting through tough times.

Click to play video: 'Calgary family hopes to save others after losing daughter to suicide' Calgary family hopes to save others after losing daughter to suicide

Calgary family hopes to save others after losing daughter to suicide – Apr 22, 2021


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