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Depression is all over the food service industry. Tokyo Kitty wants to help.

Posted: 10:53 PM, Jun 08, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-09 08:39:51-04

Are you struggling with mental illness or suicidal urges? If so, you're not alone. Call Talbert House at 513-281-2273, text "Talbert" to 839863, or look for another resource near Cincinnati online.

CINCINNATI -- As karaoke music blares and drinks flow on Friday night at Tokyo Kitty, Jacob Travino is all smiles. He has to be. In the service industry -- waiting tables, pouring drinks and cooking food for others -- presenting a cheery front to customers is part of the job, no matter how unhappy or exhausted a worker might be inside. 

"We have to come into the job every day and make sure that everyone that comes into our establishments has the best time ever," Trevino said. "That takes a lot of mental energy."

Trevino is the owner of Gorilla Cinema and three local movie-themed bars: Video Archive in East Walnut Hills, The Overlook Lodge in Pleasant Ridge and Tokyo Kitty Downtown. His years in the service industry have given him an up-close look at the hidden stresses of the jobs within it.

"I think, for us, we're typically an underserved industry when it comes to mental health resources and when it comes to healthcare resources," he said. "We see not just famous people like Anthony Bourdain losing their lives, but people in our communities are losing their lives, too."

The slender pay offered by many service jobs combined with their unrelenting pace can exacerbate employees' unhappiness and prevent them from accessing professional health care. Instead, they may begin to self-medicate.

According to a 2015 report from the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people working full-time in "accommodations and food services" have the highest rate of illicit drug use and the third-highest rate of alcohol abuse among all United States industries. 

Although mental illness can strike any person in any field, Boston Globe correspondent Kara Baskin wrote in 2016 that some service industry jobs -- in this case, restaurant jobs -- exist in an environment that has grown increasingly competitive, enabled abrasive personalities and largely disregarded the idea of work-life balance.

The result is a life that can feel "Sisyphean" -- of doing work that can never truly be done, of fielding customers' complaints and abuse, of perpetually feeling broke, exhausted and unappreciated. It's becoming a more common experience as the number of food service industry jobs grows.

Trevino doesn't want any work environment to be like that, but he's only in charge of four. He's turned one -- Tokyo Kitty -- into a place for service industry workers to seek help.

Every Tuesday between noon and 1 p.m., the "Lost in Translation"-inspired bar becomes the Service Industry Resource Center. Anyone who needs mental health care can stop by to get information about the help that's available.

"You're not obligated to talk," Trevino said. "You're not obligated to do anything other than say, ‘Do you have some resources?' And we'll be glad to point you in the right direction and get you the help you need."