5 Questions: Canadian Men’s Health Foundation exec TC Carling talks mental health, Rick Rypien and career lessons

The president and CEO of the Vancouver-based organization and former Canucks staffer digs on the importance of mental and physical health

The president and CEO of the Vancouver-based organization and former Canucks staffer digs on the importance of mental and physical health

1. What is the purpose of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation?

The organization was founded nearly a decade ago by Dr. Larry Goldenberg, a world-renowned urologist. He saw a lot of unhealthy men in his office. The reality is that 70 percent of the chronic illness men suffer is preventable through lifestyle change. For the first seven or eight years, the foundation focused on chronic illness prevention and early intervention. Over the last two-plus years we’ve posted nearly 1,000 pieces of content on our website that educate men and their families on how to take better care of themselves. And we’ve recently focused on building an equally robust mental health pillar.

2. How have you approached the mental health aspect?

The mental health space is vast; you can take it in many different directions. Initially, we stepped into the space of mild and moderate stress and anxiety: healthy eating habits, how to sleep better, exercise more, things like that. After two years of being in that space and building out important resources, we’ve added depression as part of our outreach. When we first got into this topic—in February 2021—the pandemic was a year old, and stress and anxiety were really on the rise. If nothing else, the pandemic levelled the playing field for many; it gave a lot of people certain feelings they may not have been familiar with. I think our engagement showed that. The last two years I think showed that men 30 to 60 years old were ready for the various conversations we were about to have. In the future, we won’t have two pillars, we’ll have one really robust pillar where mental and physical health are just health, and they’re complementary of one another and intertwined.

3. The foundation represents a homecoming for you—you served as senior VP in between stints with the Canucks. Why did you go there originally and why did you come back?

On August 15, 2011, [former Canuck] Rick Rypien died. Rick and I had been working closely together for over a year on a communication strategy. He had a very clear goal of helping young people who were struggling with some of the things he was struggling with. Unfortunately, his life ended and we [the Canucks] tried to really build a legacy in his honour. Over the next couple of years, I met people in that space. That’s when Dr. Goldenberg approached me about the opportunity. I joined the organization in late summer 2013. I was there at launch about nine months later and remained on the board for the next six years. I went back to the Canucks at Trevor Linden’s request, which was the better part of the next five years. I went on to be the president and CEO of [Burnaby-based athlete development centre] Fortius Sport & Health. Due to the pandemic, Fortius closed, and I started at the foundation about 10 days after that. The passion for the work that I built in and around Rick’s passing hasn’t changed. It’s been rewarding.

4. Thinking back on the night you got the call about Rick, how much does that moment stick in your mind?

I remember exactly where I was when I got it. It was tremendously upsetting, to be honest with you. I have 40 years of lived experience with anxiety; I’m 47 years old. I’m mindful of the fact that I don’t have lived experience with depression, but I have great empathy for those who do, because I know the challenges that anxiety presents in my own life. Rick was such an easy person to root for—he was the captain of the Regina Pats; teammates and fans fell in love with him in Winnipeg. He was passionate about helping young people. I remember texting Kevin [Bieksa] that night and saying, We’re going to make sure Rick’s never forgotten. I got to know Rick’s family a bit, and they should be proud of the legacy he created.

5. What’s the most important career lesson you’ve learned over the years?

Realizing that, the more adaptable we can be, as both people and professionals, the more successful we’ll be. I had a chance to learn from a lot of strong leaders over the years and you understand that you need to be consistent and reliable, and that people need to trust you, both internally and externally. That’s something I’ve tried to carry forward everywhere I’ve been. As a leader I’ve tried to provide operational transparency or operational clarity. That’s been important with challenges like the pandemic. From a leadership perspective, I believe if you earn people’s credibility, you can lead with vulnerability. I think that’s important—I’m pretty open about who I am. Whether it’s career-wise or even just getting older, it’s about being more comfortable with people really knowing who you are.

Hobbies: Hiking and watching sports

Last book I read: The Late Shift by Bill Carter

Favourite TV show right now: Succession

Favourite place in B.C.: Capilano River Regional Park

Guilty pleasure: Twizzlers and cheap candy

Pet peeve: Being late