Nonprofit offers mental health resources to service industry workers

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Service industry workers have some of the highest rates of depression and alcoholism, according to government reports. Despite the numbers, the server taking your order or cooking your meal likely doesn’t have health benefits.

As of January, for less than the cost of a beer once a month, Serving Those Serving is working to change the harsh reality.

“We love to give out ‘shifties.’ A ‘shifty’ is an after-work drink - 'here's a glass of wine, thanks for working,’ and the cost of these mental health services is less than one ‘shifty’ a month. It's remarkable,” said founder Sarah Webster Norton.

Two years in the making, Webster Norton's program partners with Sand Creek to offer low-cost, short-term, solution-based counseling. Now, restaurant employers can offer employees mental health services to address depression, anxiety, chemical dependency, workplace concerns, financial troubles, PTSD and conflict resolution. 

“It's called an EAP, so it's an Employee Assistance Program, which is not health insurance; it's actually independent of health insurance. It actually does a much better job of tackling mental health issues and the reason for that is because that's all they do,” Webster Norton said. 

Concerned about the underserved, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey held a press conference and roundtable inside the Smack Shack Monday, calling for more local businesses to consider Serving Those Serving.

“The more people, the more restaurants that know about this program and that can sign in, the larger impact we can have and the more people we can help,” said Mayor Frey.

In the last six weeks, already 600 employees across 18 restaurants have benefited from Serving Those Serving, including Smack Shack. 

Last month, the staff unexpectedly lost Jon Jacklin, their beloved director of operations, to an aneurysm. Many employees have been grieving ever since.

“When he passed, we were able to provide that opportunity to that staff and get them immediate help within 36 hours,” said Smack Shack bartender Adam Borgen. 

The cost for Smack Shack owner Josh Thoma amounts to less than $4 a month per employee.

“Having this program available to our employees really adds a benefit because of the ease of access,” Thoma said during the roundtable. 

“We can definitely use some mental health services as well, and I think we can do with one less ‘shifty,’ that's my feeling on it,” Webster Norton smirked.

Those who knew Jon say he would support the move every step of the way. 

“I think he would be very proud; he’d definitely shed a tear, raise a glass of Kim Crawford and he’d say ‘Keep going,’” Borgen said. 

Serving Those Serving will finish its pilot year in December. By then, the program hopes to have data on how many people are using the service and in what capacity. That way, the program can understand which services are most used and needed.

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