To whom it may concern,
I am writing to let you know of my decision to resign from the mental health sector.
This is effective immediately, so in lieu of an exit interview I’d like to set out my reasons.
As you know, it’s been a struggle - almost from day one.
Nearly 20 years ago I was a consumer of mental health services and decided that things needed to improve.
Imagine if you will a starving person visiting a restaurant.
It’s the only restaurant in town and there is a very limited menu.
When the person explains their dietary requirements, the chef explodes in outrage and gets the waiters and waitresses to force feed that person against their will. The meal is quite disgusting and, whilst it has some almost accidental nutritional sustenance, it causes a rather nasty bout of vomiting and diarrhoea.
If our diner tries to leave, they are forced to stay until they declare the food to be delicious, upon which they are swiftly thrown out with a packed lunch of left-overs and a police-enforced requirement to return regularly for food parcels.
Imagine that same person discovering all sorts of other food and getting a job at the restaurant in an attempt to enrich the menu and help other starving people.
Well if you can remember that far back, that was me.
I started at the bottom.
Quite literally as it happens, washing the arses of people with such powerful alcohol dependance they couldn’t do it for themselves. And from that nurse aide job in detox I moved into rehab, trying to convince people who had drunk and drugged the decades away that society still had a place for them. Then I switched to helping those people that society had actually decided there was no place for and had left them destitute and homeless.
That’s when I knew I had to climb the ladder and see if I could get into the kitchen and stir things up.
I had a go at research, evaluation, training, advocacy, activism, law, policy, funding and even governance. All of it was cripplingly limited, competitively fragmented and ultimately without clear purpose as to what people wanted to eat and how best to feed them.
So I decided to leave and see if I could influence the chef and the restaurant owners as an independent ‘expert’.
I got really good at interviewing and surveying people, like asking the customers what they did and did not like about the restaurant. I even managed to go even further, beyond simple restaurant reviews, to explore people’s nutritional needs and gastronomic aspirations. I got good at designing new services and approaches. It was as if I were creating recipes, that I saw ruined over and over again. There were the augmentations, like special sauces for the existing meals, that would be ditched at the last minute or served so diluted as to have no taste. And then there were the alternatives, like entirely new meals with novel foods, that were pulled from the menu before customers could even try them.
And all the while I suspected that the restaurant owners were actually at the mercy of the food suppliers, who made sure only the food they grew and profited from was used. And the chef just wanted to stick with what he knew whilst getting the odd kick back from the food suppliers. I knew most the waiting staff would like to serve better food, but they were a bit terrified of the chef and the owner. It felt they were simply exhausted by the end of their shifts and not far off being diners themselves.
And now I realise what I probably knew on day one - the restaurant will never change.
Not really change. Sure they might mix up the menu a little from time to time to give the illusion of choice. Perhaps even offer a new meal as a trial promotion. But then they’ll go back to what they know. Because it’s what they know.
And those in charge of running the restaurant can’t fix it because they don’t see it as broken. The don’t eat there. And besides, the restaurant is full. In fact there’s a huge waiting list.
Because it’s the only restaurant in town and if you’re starving you’ll eat anywhere.
So I’ve decided to resign from the mental health restaurant.
I’m tired of my own sadness. Tired of seeing so many starving people queuing day and night for a crap meal and then blaming themselves that it doesn’t fill them up.
And I’m tired of my own anger. Tired of seeing the restaurant rebrand the same old menu and force well-meaning waiters and waitresses to serve food they know barley nourishes people, while the owners defend the chef and the food suppliers’ increasing privileges and profits.
But mostly I’m excited. Because as well as working for you, I’ve been building a food cart in my spare time. It’s pretty basic - just a few bits of wood on a couple of wonky wheels.
But it’s mine and I’ll be serving all the types of food that I find tastes good and fills my belly.
And I’m going to park it right across the road from your restaurant.
Yours sincerely, Gareth