Fast food is making some kids sick. And they're not even eating it. The industry has thrived off the back of young people, often still in school, who've been hired on junior pay rates but expected to do adult jobs. We reveal the high price some are paying in terms of mental health after copping abuse from both senior staff and customers, leading one former McDonald's Dapto employee to contemplate suicide.
Last February, an angry customer in Dapto McDonald's car park told 19-year-old manager Will that he was going to kill him.
"I went outside to hand him his drink and he stopped the car and came straight up to me and was saying he was going to f---ing kill me, he was going to come back and stab me," Will said.
"I remember holding my arms out and saying 'Go for it, mate, I have nothing left', and then him getting into his car and telling me to f--- off and driving off and after that I just started shaking."
This was far from the first time Will had been abused by a customer, but after months of attacks and being "treated like garbage" by some of his co-workers, it was his breaking point.
"I felt like I was letting everyone down and that maybe all those customers were right, maybe I should just not be here and then everything would be fixed," he said.
Like other young workers at the Dapto store, Will had been yelled at by staff members, abused by angry customers and sent on additional unpaid breaks since starting there at the age of 14.
But he enjoyed his job and jumped at the chance to take on the role of manager when it was offered to him in late 2021.
Three months later, he was curled up in the foetal position on the floor of his bedroom, making plans to end his life.
It was a combination of extreme customer abuse - words like "you should kill yourself" or "I'm going to kill you" were frequently hurled at him - and being on the outer of certain "management cliques" that broke him.
"I had all the shit shifts, all the less experienced crew and the understaffed shifts most of the time and then there was the bias," he said.
"If other managers had done the same actions as I did, say they finished the shift and the stockroom wasn't completely full, it would just be under the radar.
"If i did it, it would be 'Why is it like this? I need a response right now'.
He said he quickly realised he would need to stay back after work and complete the unfinished tasks on his own time in order to avoid getting in trouble.
Will said it was this lack of care and support from some of his superiors that left him feeling panicked whenever the phone rang or he had to step in to shield a crew member from being abused at the counter.
"It was always over items that were missing from their bag, they would call up the store or come back in and if it didn't go the way they planned they would scream at me that I should kill myself, you're a f---ing disgrace'."
He shared CCTV footage or details of the most serious incidents in a group chat with some fellow managers.
Will said at first they replied to say the same thing had happened to them, before they stopped responding altogether
"It got to the point where no-one would react or they would just ignore it or say 'okay and what did you do to piss them off?'" he said.
"So I stopped sending them because nothing happened."
While Will never shared his suicidal thoughts with his managers, he said it was common knowledge among the leadership team that he wasn't coping in the new role.
"One manager said it was normal, every manager experienced it, and that it will break me until it makes me," he said.
"There were other times when I would be in the office crying and it would be like 'oh, don't worry, I had a customer like that too but you get used to it'."
Within a few months of being promoted, Will had fallen into a deep depression and had asked to step down as manager.
"It happened so quickly, like I was happy with not really any issues and then not even five months and I was planning on killing myself," he said.
When Isabella hops into the car after her shift at Woonona McDonald's, her mum Jennifer can see how it went by the look on her face.
For the past two years, her expression has mostly been a mixture of anger and frustration.
"Every time I pick her up, she goes, 'I hate the way they speak to me, the way they treat me'," Jennifer said.
Isabella, who can work up to 40 hours a week, has put up with the negative work environment for around 18 months.
We encourage our employees, their parents and caregivers to speak up and report any breach of our policy and values to the Employee Relations Hotline."
"It's just continuous abuse that comes from some of the managers and travels down to some trainers because that's the habit they're picking up and they think it's okay to abuse other staff.
"And I mean they can scream at them, raising their voice and saying 'hurry up, are you stupid?'
"Some of them will give her attitude, be very rude to her and just like aggressive. It's disgusting."
Jennifer said she was also concerned about understaffing, with her daughter forced to man the front counter on her own during peak hour on a Thursday or Friday night.
"She's been the only crew person rostered on from 5.30pm till about 9 o'clock, running the whole counter service and packing orders for the delivery drivers as well.
"Then she's abused by customers because they are short staffed, and I've even called and complained and absolutely nothing. All I got was, 'yeah, we'll discuss this'.
"I feel so sad that she has to be going through all of this, it's not the way the real world is - not all jobs are like that."
McDonald's Australia said the safety and wellbeing of crew members was their top priority and they were investigating the incidents at both stores.
"We take such allegations seriously and are looking into this with the restaurants, to ensure the necessary actions are taken to support all employees," a company spokesperson said.
Employees and their families are provided with a range of health, safety and wellbeing support, including access to registered health professionals such as nurses, psychologists and emergency responders through the 24/7 wellbeing and safety platform, Sonder and our Employee Assistance Program, according to the company.
"We strive to create safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces where our people are supported and empowered.
"All McDonald's employees complete training in McDonald's Respectful Workplace Policy and are expected to uphold our values at all times.
"We encourage our employees, their parents and caregivers to speak up and report any breach of our policy and values to the Employee Relations Hotline."
Claudia, who supports young people in Illawarra high schools, said she consistently comes across reports from students and families of unsafe work practices and conditions in businesses both large and small.
She said this can harm the child's confidence, self-esteem and their developing beliefs about the world of work.
"McDonald's stores are spoken of having good onboarding and training processes for new staff, but can staff shifts with inexperienced supervisors who are sometimes incapable of managing staff, let alone the conflict and issues arising from customer service and complaints management," she said.
"Exposure to harassment from the public is not the fault of the employer but the management and care of staff during and following these incidents is.
"These incidents are potentially traumatising young people and harming their development of self and foundational ideas about workplaces, including what is modelled to them by managers and supervisors.
"I believe this also shapes the belief about acceptable boundaries in the workplace and potentially conditions young people to accept unacceptable behaviour, learn inappropriate managerial skills modelled to them, and become disillusioned, impacting on their own decisions about work in the future."
Will's last shift at Dapto McDonald's was in March 2022, not long after his mum found him lying on the floor sobbing.
"She said 'no, this is it, you can't do this anymore' and then she helped me rewrite my resume and apply for other jobs."
Will said a manager had told him that they had put too much time and money into training him up to lose him so soon, and that he would have to wait until they trained up a replacement before he left.
So he waited for two new managers to start and handed in his notice.
He now has a new job and said he is finally feeling like his old self again.
"Last Christmas was the first one I'd had off in like five years and it kind of hit me all at once that my life has improved drastically and I'm happy again."
*All names have been changed. Claudia asked that both her real name and position be withheld.