Calgary chef shares grief after losing 11 colleagues to suicide: 'It's the secondary pandemic'

WATCH: The number of suicides within the hospitality industry during the COVID-19 pandemic has hit some scary numbers. As Jill Croteau reports, a Calgary restaurant is hoping to raise awareness and funds to help save lives.

A Calgary restaurant wants the issue of suicide to come out of the shadows. Owner of Modern Steak said the hospitality industry has been affected by a secondary pandemic over the last 18 months. Stephen Deere said the issue needs to be talked about.

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“The stigma, not asking for help, is hurting people, especially in the bravado and ego of the kitchen environment,” Deere said.

Deere is putting on a fundraising dinner, hoping to raise more awareness of this crisis.

“Our business is about family and we take care of each other. This is our way of taking care of our community.”

Restaurants have been at the mercy of the pandemic, opening and closing, opening and closing again.

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The cycle hit their bottom lines but it hit their people to the core in a catastrophic way.

Stephen Deere, Modern Steak owner.

Stephen Deere, Modern Steak owner.

Jill Croteau/Global News

“The structure of a kitchen with the team mentality is that the next guy is in the fox hole next to you, and when you take that away from people, it was a complete spiral at that point,” Deere said.

“There’s no reason to get out of bed. All of sudden it feels very dark.

“There’s no one around and no reason to look forward to tomorrow.”

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Deere’s executive chef, Dustin Schafer, lost 11 colleagues over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of them were working in restaurant kitchens around the country.

“I don’t want it to be taboo anymore,” Schafer said. “Maybe some of it wouldn’t have happened.”

“There’s a lot of pain and a lot of frustration.”

But the community of chefs and other industry colleagues bonded through their grief.

“It wasn’t just on my shoulders; we all took a piece of it and helped each other out,” Schafer said.

All proceeds of the event will be donated to the Centre for Suicide Prevention and organizers hope to raise $10,000. Staff have offered to donate all their tips from the June 27 event as well.

Mara Grunau, executive director at Centre for Suicide Prevention, said reaching out to others is vital.

“There’s no grief like suicide grief.

“It ravages us and there can be anger, blame, shame and guilt and more than we want.

“We want to talk about how to help people who are here,” Grunau said.

Mara Grunau, executive director at Centre for Suicide Prevention

Mara Grunau, executive director at Centre for Suicide Prevention

Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

She said it’s important to listen and not try and problem solve if someone close to you appears to be struggling. Grunau suggested asking them sensitively about whether or not they are considering suicide.

“You could say: ‘Sometimes when things are bad, some people think about suicide.’ It’s so hard to ask but so important because you’re willing to step in where other people aren’t and they don’t have to say the word because you have said it,” Grunau said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 211 or the Distress Centre’s 24 hour crisis line at 403-266-HELP (4357).

In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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