Red Stripe town hall explores alcohol’s role in mental health
‘Responsibility Now’ is the charge in balancing liquor with life’s challenges
LOCAL BARS have been viewed as a place of refuge for many individuals suffering with mental health issues, feelings of stress, and a myriad of life challenges.
Jason Russell, chief executive officer of Pier One Jamaica – a restaurant, bar and entertainment centre located in Montego Bay, St James, stated that the bartenders have had to take on the roles of therapists, counsellors, and in many instances, being a friend who, with a listening ear has the patron’s best interests at heart.
Russell was speaking at the Red Stripe ‘Responsibility Now!’ Town Hall Series under the theme, ‘Making Sense of the Relationship between Alcohol and Mental Health’, on Wednesday. This is the company’s third edition of the Responsibility Now! Town Hall Series, which was first launched in 2022.
Russell asserted that because patrons did not experience judgement while in a bar, their discussion of personal issues were frequently observed. He added that the stress that a bartender goes through on a daily basis was similar to the job of a masseuse who must “rub out [the] knots out of the back”, where the knots in this case represents the challenges and stresses of the individual.
“The truth is most people will not walk into a psychiatrist office or go to a doctor for a mental health issue,” he said, noting that customers found comfort in a bartender and that this interaction becomes habitual.
“They find peace and comfort while having a drink at the bar and you can’t deny that. But what happens after? How do you follow that up?” he said, noting that the follow-up process is what makes the difference.
He said that the patrons then become “like family” and that the bartender, being accustomed to the individual, can easily pick up on when they have either reached their drinking limit or surpassed it and will, if needed, take their car keys and phone a taxi for transport instead.
The bartenders are absorbing a lot of the worries of the people they encounter, according to Russell, who has been running Pier One for 20 years. This is due to the nature of the work, which requires regular interaction with many different people.
In order to identify people who are clearly displaying signs of using alcohol as a numbing agent to their daily troubles and are in need of serious treatment, he said, it is necessary to work in collaboration with mental health professionals to refer them to.
“And I’ve tried it a couple of times and it has not been successful. I tried calling the psychiatrist and say ‘hey, would you be interested in reaching out to this person?’ and those responses we’ve gotten so far is ‘no, the person has to come to me’ and we’re not in the business of handcuffing somebody and sending them to [them], we do what we can,” he said.
Additionally, he said that on a business level, it wasn’t attractive to have a room full of people who are drunk, depressed, or in a sombre mood because it sets a bad tone for the operations of that business and so, the aim is to create a warm and lively atmosphere that can hopefully pull others out of their bad situations.
Russell went on to say that it was crucial to foster a sense of community at the workplace and among employees, while leading by example as an employer when it pertains to consuming alcohol.
To involve staff in regular training sessions was also helpful in order to support bartenders who are exposed to the weight of the mental health challenges of customers.
Through Red Stripe’s collaboration with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the aim of the event is to engage key stakeholders and generate public discourse on many facets of responsible alcohol consumption.
During his remarks, Metry Seaga, president of the PSOJ, said that mental health was a crucial aspect of a person’s overall health and wellness. He also stressed the importance of acknowledging the need for an open and honest discussion about the complicated relationship that individuals have with alcohol, as well as its detrimental impact on mental wellbeing in this fast-paced world, where stress and anxiety have become ubiquitous.
“While it is true that alcohol can temporarily release stress our emotional turmoil, it is essential to recognise the potential dangers beneath the surface [as] excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate existing mental health conditions,” Seaga said.
In his keynote address, Dr Kevin Goldburn, director of mental health and substance abuse unit in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, described alcohol as a psychoactive substance which causes changes in the brain’s function and affects the nervous system. This can cause changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behaviour.
He emphasised that individuals ought to practise responsible drinking rather than binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a period of two hours for men and four or more drinks in a period of two hours for women.
“A drink is like one fibre ounce Red Stripe beer,” he said.
He continued that drinking more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week for men and more than seven drinks per week for women were at risk for developing problems with alcohol use.
“To note though ... the consumption of alcohol that I’ve mentioned, for some persons, [to] consume less than that will cause problems,” he said, adding that individuals needed to be aware of and adhere to their alcohol intake limit.
Dianne Ashton-Smith, head of Corporate Affairs at Red Stripe, said the firm was committed to planning events that would help to identify long-term solutions to address alcohol usage and mental health issues.
She continued by saying that it was crucial to have these discussions about drinking responsibly and mental health in order to spur positive change at the individual and societal levels.
“In recent years, we know conversations around mental health particularly during Covid and post-Covid, that this is hugely important, and we need to have these conversations [as] mental health affects every aspect of our lives,” she added.
For Help, Contact:
The MOHW’s mental health and suicide prevention helpline – 888 NEW LIFE (639-5433) toll free, 24-hour assistance
Choose Life International for suicide prevention and grief counselling – (876) 920-7924
RISE Life Management Services for substance abuse issues – (876) 967-3777 or (876) 991 -4146