By Terry Cornick
Brevity in the written word is never my strong point. But for this summary of a mental health event (The Garden Rooms) I attended last night I promise to be as concise as possible (As my wife pointed out recently by creating a meme, I can sometimes be good at not writing, the meme's text hovered over a picture of me saying "Calls himself a writer. Doesn't even write me a Mother's Day Card).
Forwarded to me by email from a friend, I signed up to this event eagerly. It was FREE after all. And focused on “Mental Health in Sport” with some high profile guests and speakers.
After yet again dealing with my failed inner compass that somehow causes disorientation and cannot find locations even with the assistance of Google Maps, I entered the Charles Perkins Centre at the sprawling University of Sydney Campus.
A great turnout was introduced to Bryan Coleman, co-Founder of The Banksia Project to tell their story and goals - you can read more about them here. In summary they offer two vehicles of delivery as defined by them below:
The Garden Rooms
The Garden Rooms are free to all members of the community and focus on delivering empowering mental health stories and learnings for all ages and genders.
The Growth Rooms
Male only community support groups lead by trained facilitators discussing a range of topics from stress management, mental illness to wellness practices. All groups will have a Mental Health professional referral network and clinical supervision from partner institutions.
Ex-sprinter Matt Shirvington appeared confident and spoke with efficient clarity as he took the microphone, talking at a pace and delivery that was impeccable but delivered his vital messages (although impressed, I truly and secretly envied him).
Everest was his theme; how consistently over his career people told him to keep making strides to the top of the "peak". His peak was an Olympic Gold Medal, and although he did not get there, he made the point that even 1% increases in his sprint times still would not have got him there. He had to accept he was “enough” and thankfully now has enormous gratitude for the people around him that got him to the heights he achieved.
He continued to explain that most elite athletes are equipped to make this journey towards the peak. But whereas your everyday man has multiple "peaks" to tackle (sports, work, family), athletes usually have just this one; their athletic career. This focus can become dangerous, but a positive note was made that the likes of Greg Inglis in the NRL have reached out for professional help before they hit a crisis.
But the Everest story does not end at the peak. Where do you go once you have reached your peak? Athletes are equipped to go up with enough tools and supplies but coming back down, the descent into “normal” life is barely ever considered or prepared for. Hence the multitude of stories we hear about scandals involving those at the highest level of sport when their powers fade.
At his own peak, Matt’s father could see his hunger, that was in danger of destroying him, and told him the story of a temple of Monks that needed to get rid of a troublesome group of monkeys. They did not believe in killing them so set traps that had fruit inside. The hole was just big enough for their hands, but the fruit was too big to be taken out without them dropping it.
When the Monks came to inspect in the morning all the traps were full. The monkeys frantically clung to the dilemma of holding on, even though they were never going to get the fruit. A fable of letting go if ever there was one.
And then up stepped Zac Seidler, co-founder of The Banksia Project. The tall, thoughtful Psychologist with the bright socks, that had an acutely personal mission. His dad took his own life some years ago and his professional vocation was cemented.
His fifteen minute talk had me on the edge of my seat. Without simplifying it (I urge all to watch once it is up on YouTube) he used some key analogies.
Mental health for men is like a pothole. You will ride over this blip on your way to work, causing a minor frustration each and every time. But over time, this hole becomes bigger. Eventually you lose a wheel or damage your car and you report it to the Council.
But the Council do not care. You need to find a new route or hope the hole is filled in eventually.
And then his gem of an anecdote. When Clients call him before an appointment to cancel they usually say, “I’ve had a great weekend, things are going well, I don’t need to see you today”. The whole mentality is flawed. As Zac explained he tells them the same thing every time, “Recovery starts when you are feeling good. There’s no use anyone coming to me for saving when they are at their lowest, in a crisis”.
A lively panel discussion followed with the following guests:
Wayne Schwass, former Sydney Swans
James Holbeck, former Australian Wallaby
Ed Cowan, former Australian Cricket Test Match Player
Dr. Rachael Murrihy, Health Psychology Unit – UTS
Prof. Neils Buus, The University of Sydney
Without taking away from the multiple powerful discussions and stories from all involved, I took away a key message for our “authorities” based on Wayne’s comments. I am personally growing frustrated by the day of what I see as poor leadership, execution and waste of resources, as well as lack of, in this “lucky country”. An affluent, progressive country that cannot provide enough effective support in mental health. More on that in future.
Wayne summed up his own thoughts about there essentially being two buckets. “Here is General Health and here is Mental Health. Why are they not dealt with together?”. He got me fired up inside, nodding in agreement that more needs to be done to connect and bring families into the process.
“When a family member of friend has diabetes, cancer, heart disease, we rush to hospital to their side and be with them, support them, let them know we love them - when they have a mental illness we close up and keep the issue at bay, we do not talk about it or tackle it”.
He used the example of Greg Inglis’ recent admission to a mental health facility. For all his super stardom and celebrity, just one visitor came to see him, a fellow NRL player that experience his pain.
With The Banksia Project’s “The Growth Rooms” starting next week I urge everyone to get behind them and find out what they do and how they do it. I will be sending many of our Mr. Perfect community their way. As I listened last night it seemed like the ideal natural partnership and progression.
One of my key reasons for starting Mr. Perfect was the fact Doctors had two options to deal with us “troubled” men. In one hand, here is a leaflet. In another, here is medication.
Support groups like these in creating connection, harnessing that love we know is there and allowing men to be human.
Please note any quotations above are as close to the spoken word as possible as I remember - for the exact sentiment check out the video of the event at The Banksia Project YouTube page - yet to be uploaded but stay tuned - www.youtube.com/channel/UCm0biN7mz3PA3yd29p9WOOg
To find out more generally about The Banksia Project go www.thebanksiaproject.com.au or watch their video here www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mrmjh2SGoA
To find out more about Mr. Perfect go to www.mrperfect.org.au