The Journey to Find Mr Perfect
3 October 2017 at 8:10 am
Former Londoner and now Sydney-sider Terry Cornick is a man who seemingly had it all, but his own silent battle with depression has led him to set up a charity with a vision to transform men’s mental health. He spoke to Lina Caneva about the journey to find Mr Perfect.
For those who knew Terry Cornick, either socially or at work, he appeared to have it all – he was Mr Perfect – young, good looking and successful, but on the inside he battled depression.
Cornick says in dealing with his own mental health battles he realised that too often healthcare clinicians, although helpful and vital, had a standard, straightforward response.
“They either prescribe medication or hand you a leaflet. There is nothing in between,” Cornick says during a conversation on another busy day for the founder of the Mr Perfect charity who is preparing to move his organisation onto the national stage.
Based on Cornick’s personal experience, the Mr. Perfect charity is a grassroots support organisation that holds casual meet-ups across Sydney with a vision to help other men with their mental health issues through “comfortable discussions” at a free barbeque – over a Aussie snag.
Cornick says his charity “starts the conversation” through personal stories and interaction in what he says is a “safe, non-judgemental way”.
“There was little effective, free, non-clinical support for men, especially those that appeared to ‘function’ on the surface,” he says.
“My background was in having mental struggles and I had repressed them until I was about 25 and then thought about getting some help back then and didn’t.
“And then when I got to 30 I finally decided to get some help. I was about to get married and start a family … there were all these pivotal events about to happen in my life and they all came at once. My dad had passed away and I thought now is the time.
“I thought I needed to be as mentally healthy as I could be so that there was no knock-on effect at all to my family. So that was the trigger with three or four key events that happened, and then I saw Mr Perfect come into effect.”
Cornick laughs when he explains where the name Mr Perfect originated.
“One of my best mates used to call me Mr. Perfect not knowing what I was going through until I told him,” Cornick says.
“He was the inspiration because he used to say, ‘God you wear nice suits and you are doing so well at work and you wife’s beautiful’, and all these things and I used to smile.
“It looked on the outside that everything was perfect and I used to have to walk into work and put that face on for that nine hours and be someone else really and not be myself and open and true. That is quite ironic when we try to seek perfection as men and we are expected be the breadwinner, a great husband and great dad, great at our jobs and all the other pressures.”
In typical Aussie style, Cornick says it was a discussion at a local pub that helped him formulate the Mr Perfect charity.
“I was having a chat with a bunch of mates at the pub about some surgery they might be having and I slipped into the conversation that I was actually seeing a doctor at the moment for x,y,z and no one ran away and one of them said ‘well actually I see a psychologist’ and before you knew it we had a very open conversation which was amazing,” he recalls.
“The other thing that happened was around my writing. I loved writing and I had started a blog about Mr Perfect anonymously as a kind of therapeutic thing really and it sort of gave me the basics for the website.
“I also read a report by [mental health charity] beyondblue called Men’s Connectedness. It surveyed 2,000 men and asked ‘how often do you see friends, family, or people close to you that you can talk about life issues’. Some of the guys were getting to 40 and couldn’t remember when they last saw friends or any family that they could talk to about any struggles they were having. They had mortgages, kids and job issues and got more pressured and had even less time for that social interaction with other men.
“And while my doctors – my GP is brilliant and my psychiatrist specialist – there was nothing in between. It was just going to them with a problem and then go to see the specialist and here is some medication. There wasn’t really the aspect of what’s in between. What if people aren’t ready for that and it might not be as serious as that and what if they are at a stage where they want to talk to like-minded people or people who have gone through [depression] themselves? And that’s how it started.
“What we do that’s different is provide a non-confrontational, comfortable environment where guys can come along and they might know someone there or they might not, they might want to talk about mental health or they might not. If they wanted to talk about football they could, or work, they could. But what we found was the natural conversation once one person opened up a little bit about their story or they had come to one meet-up before, they felt a lot more comfortable to just drop their [circumstances] into the conversation and no one ran away.”
Cornick believes men “crave this safe space” where people can be comfortable to open up.
“It’s a continuous process. At a barbeque the conversation is more natural… and the topic can come up more easily over a snag,” he says.
“Success for me was when people would message me and say it was great to meet a great bunch of guys and it was so non-judgemental. I think that’s when I knew we were hitting that kind of sweet spot.
“When I first started out I contacted some of the bigger [not-for-profit] organisations for help and advice. Some were dismissive and I was even told by one ‘don’t bother starting up a charity because it is a waste of time’. It didn’t put me off – it kind of made me want to do it more.”
Cornick says the best experience came from the not-for-profit organisation RUOK.
“I’d emailed the CEO… He said ‘I have half an hour on this day and come and chat with me’ and he was brilliant. He gave me lots of insight, and I could tell he was a very busy man but he was so supportive. That gave me the incentive to continue,” Cornick says.
“I wasn’t sure it would take off like it has, but a couple of mates who are on the board kept pushing me to do it. They were kind of like my ‘confidence’ saying if we do it right it could be really, really helpful for everyone.
“We do have a smaller group we cooperate with at the moment called the Banksia Group. We are like-minded. They are like a Men’s Room and we would refer [people] onto them if necessary. Our’s is more of an open group.
“The other organisation that we have been able to help each other out is Hello Sunday Morning in Sydney which has been incredible.”
The issue of future funding is currently occupying Cornick’s planning process.
“At the start it was me using my own funds. I would spend a hundred bucks and get a load of sausages and lug all the bags there [to the barbeque] and set it up. I have a great network of people around me from my work mates and they help with the website. They saw something in it and said they’d love to help.
“Money-wise we are formulating our future fundraising plans. It’s not been really formal. It has been a mixture of personal donations, fundraising events … including the ‘basic ball’ each year which is very laid back. We haven’t actually accessed any grants or anything formal yet but that is something that we are looking for advice on, on how to access that.”
Cornick admits that his own professional life has certainly made him well placed to progress his charity.
“I started out in recruitment and recruiting doctors and so coincidently I dealt with health care professionals every day. I was recruiting doctors for a commercial agency and then I recently joined a company that is far more involved in marketing and health care start-ups and we are starting health care clinics focusing on care rather than quick medicine. I am surrounded by health-care professionals. It is a good marriage between the two,” he says.
“I got accepted recently on to a program called The Growth Program – a philanthropic foundation program and it partners charity leaders with business leaders. It’s a year long course and it’s once a month or so and looks at everything in the sector around networking right down to the paperwork. The exciting stuff, the boring stuff. It has been amazing. I have learned huge amounts.
“What we see [at Mr Perfect events] are many well to do, professional people who are expected to put on this front, day in day out, and never have an outlet to discuss their feelings and we get guys who have been in that position and lost it all. One of our regulars who lost it all is back to square one and trying to rebuild.”
The regular meet-ups have expanded and now Cornick is looking to take them interstate.
“For the last 18 months we have had monthly meet-ups in Sydney at Surrey Hills. We waited to see how well this worked before we thought this could work in other parts of Sydney. This month we have expanded to weekly meet ups… across Sydney.
“The bigger plan is that it is growing nicely and organically. I can almost franchise-style the model and provide all the barbeque equipment which was donated by [retailer] BBQ’s Galore. There were no strings attached they just said we would like to help.
“My wife is not very happy because they gave us so much [equipment] it is piled up in our garage… It’s good. By the end of the financial year we would ideally like to have eight to 12 events around Sydney and once we get to that critical stage we can be thinking about Melbourne and Brisbane and elsewhere.
“In theory anyone could come to me and say they would love to do their own meet-up. We would provide the equipment etc .
“We normally get about 20 people at each one. Once it gets over that it probably defeats the purpose of being quite intimate. Once we established Surrey Hills, then we got five people at inner west and the next event we had 10 and then we had more. I think 15 to 20 is normally a good number.”
Cornick says getting the message out about the meet-ups and the charity is an evolving project.
“It has been ‘persistence and patience and trial and error’ to get the message out there about the meet-ups,” he says.
“At first we put the word out online on meet-up.com… and it’s now the place where we organise our events. It is also through word of mouth and my personal networks and social media and we try everything… It took 18 months for the Surrey Hills event to get to the point that it is mature group.
“We have had to tweak the messaging and not put men’s mental health as the aim. It leads to that. We are getting to that ideal message with help and advice from other people.
“We are thinking about doing a video on what to expect at a meet up because people assume it’s going to be something quite daunting and a group style thing and it’s not. It was never meant to be that. The hardest thing is to get people there.
“I am from north London originally and a naturalised Australian. We have one child Finn who is 18 months old. My wife says ‘you chose to ramp up your life when your life was already busy’.
“That keeps me going really. I am not great when I am not busy. So this keeps my mind stimulated. That’s where I find the biggest issues personally. I find it hard to go on holidays. I can go on holidays but not long holidays. I can’t sit on the beach for 10 days.”
Keeping his own mental health in check is an ongoing journey.
“I have to be very honest and say my own mental health assessment is a five out of 10.That’s part of the Mr Perfect thing. Some say I am a hypocrite because I am looking after everyone else and I am showing them the path and I joke when I say it… I am upfront. I tell everyone that that they need to look after themselves but I am not the best one to do it myself. I go through stages,” he says.
“When I wasn’t getting help my depression was worse … it is not a constant thing now, but if I don’t look after myself it sort of creeps up and I might crash for a day and the world caves in.
“Recently I had an episode because I had stopped exercising and had no team sports after the footy season finished and I wasn’t eating well at all and I tried a different diet… and I was over-worked and doing too much. It’s probably six strategies that I need to work on so that I don’t suffer… I have to keep on it.”
And Cornick’s advice to those setting up a charity is to have “balance in the team”… “and you do need to accept help”.
If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au