Ben Willis, owner and head chef of Canberra's only two-hatted restaurant Aubergine, remembers the morning he got a phone call from the partner of a woman who worked for him.
"He'd phoned me to tell me she'd committed suicide, I remember it was a Sunday morning, I said to my wife, 'I don't know what to do, how do I tell the staff?'"
Willis, along with several of Canberra's top chefs and industry workers, was part of the inaugural Canberra gathering for The White Jacket Effect, a movement which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues in the hospitality industry.
Amber Kaba started White Jacket when she lost her mentor to suicide. She was determined to start a national conversation about the pressures of working in the industry and ways to help people find the help they need.
One of the questions from the audience was how do we change the industry?
"It's a tricky question because there are a lot of things about the industry we love," Kaba says. "It's the fast pace and the deadlines and the perfectionism that drew me in, to want to be in it for my whole career.
"We need to be careful that we don't necessarily want to change the industry but put structures in place so we're better able to deal with the pressures more effectively when they arise."
She said she is glad that the issue is being spoken about. There was a major story over the weekend about the suicide of prominent chef Jeremy Strode and the number of other top-line chefs who have also recently taken their own lives.
The story addressed what chefs are doing in their own businesses to change things, what they are doing in their own lives to change things.
"The sad thing is it's always been an issue and it's only now that it's being talked about," Kaba says.
"It's very important to have these conversations around prevention and what to do if unfortunate things do happen. We need to empower the industry to better deal with them."
Willis says the industry has changed since he did his apprenticeship.
"I don't look back and think my apprenticeship, or the way the industry was, was bad," he says.
"But I recognise that other people deal with it differently.
"When I think back I think it made me more resilient but do I think it has to be that way? No I don't."
Close to 100 people attended the forum, from the industry and health services. Other chefs on the panel were Kurt Neumann of Grazing, Alex Piris of Fox and Bow and Vanessa Scanes, director of Nourish Hospitality. Also included were Angus Mackie, executive barista at Ona, and James Souter, owner of The Boathouse.
Piris runs a regular local group called What's on Your Plate, where he encourages those from the hospitality community to come along and, if they choose to, tell their story.
"There's a real sense of camaraderie in the community, we laugh a lot, but we listen to each other too. That's the most important part," Piris says.
- If you or anyone you know requires support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.