Deniliquin Pastoral Times
From struggling teen to advocate
Scott Vesty has been suffering from depression since he was 15.
But he struggled silently for another 17 years, before finally plucking up the courage at age 32 to tell anyone what he had been going through.
And now, more than a decade after that, the Mathoura man who now lives in Finley, is doing what he can to break down the barriers to talking about our mental health.
Scott says being exposed to bullying and domestic violence issues when he was younger led to him developing depression and anxiety.
Once he felt comfortable seeking help, he said it was a matter of trying out a few counsellors and finding one that fit his needs, along with contingent psychiatric help when he needed it.
Scott felt isolated for years due to the stigma of mental health, but he finds solace now in talking about it with — and to — others.
When living in Geelong in 2019 and 2020, he started up an organisation called ‘Battling the Black Dog — Facing Your Demons’.
‘‘I go and talk very openly and honestly; I’m an open book with my story,’’ he said.
In the last three years, Scott has spoken to groups at about 15 Geelong organisations, including businesses, schools, and sports clubs, wherever he was needed.
He said the personal and raw nature of his storytelling helps people relate and connect.
‘‘The feedback I got all the time is people saying ‘because you’re a real person, you’re not spouting facts and figures, it’s actually that you’ve lived it, you’ve been through it’ — that’s why it touched so many people.’’
Scott’s talks are not only personally cathartic, he believes they have also given great insight to people who might recognise the cues of mental ill health in loved ones who have felt the need to hide their struggles.
‘‘I have people say that it (the speech) ‘raises flags for my brother or husband’, or that sort of thing.’’
He says the most important thing is to regularly ask the question ‘‘are you okay?’’, and to really listen if someone opens up.
And if you feel out of your depth or concerned for that person, ‘‘the best thing to do is recommend their friend to talk to a doctor about seeing a counsellor, or talking to Lifeline’’, Scott says.
After his talks, he is often asked what he would do differently if he could go back to being his 15 year old self.
‘‘I kept my depression hidden for more than 15 years. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my closest family until I was 32.
‘‘If I could have my time over again I would tell someone.
‘‘I was born in 1974, so growing up it was always the stigma that boys and men . . . you don’t show your emotions, you don’t cry.
‘‘I thought that if I told my parents they would say ‘you need to harden up a bit’, but talking to them later they said that that wouldn’t have happened.
‘‘The thoughts in my head made me think that.’’
Lockhart farmer and chair of Wagga Wagga-based mental health awareness organisation Riverina Bluebell, Steve Matthews, agrees.
He says that young men want to appear impenetrable, an attitude which can lead to isolation and make their symptoms worse.
‘‘That’s their downfall in the end because they’re not 10 feet tall and bulletproof anymore, they’re actually realising, ‘I’m quite vulnerable’ and that’s a big step for a young fella to make,’’ Mr Matthews said.
The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that of the 16 million Australians aged 16-85 years, 45 per cent were diagnosed with a lifelong mental illness, while 20 per cent had a 12 month mental disorder.
The survey also found a correlation between lower rates of 12 month mental disorders and contact with family and friends.
‘‘Around a quarter of the people with no friends to rely on or confide in had a 12 month mental disorder, compared with 18 per cent for the people with three or more friends to rely on or confide in,’’ the survey reports.
It’s a clear signal to reach out to a friendly ear, and Mr Vesty says there’s no better time than now, when the state is opening up again.
And it’s serendipitous that reopening coincides with Mental Health Month in October, too.
Scott moved back to the local area in March 2020 to be closer to his family and friends.
He lives in Finley with his fiancee Leesa Jackson.
‘‘I work full time and with everything that happened with COVID, I wasn’t able to do talks for a while.
‘‘Now we’re able to come out of that with restrictions lifting, so I thought it was a good time to get back out there in my area.’’
Along with his public speaking, he’s staying involved with his community as coach for Tocumwal Cricket Club.
Scott wants people who are struggling to know that being shut down or ‘told off’ for talking about their mental health is far less likely than they think, but if it does happen, they should keep trying.
And he’s open with his teenage children in Geelong about his struggles, so they grow up knowing they can talk openly if they have their own struggles.
‘‘They (my children) know that dad has mental health issues.
‘‘Their mum’s very good and she talks to them about it, and they talk to me about it.’’
Scott says the pressure of bullying or fitting in can be heightened when access to social media makes it hard to fully switch off from the problem — for both children and adults.
‘‘Kids will always find it tough to tell their parents things because they feel like they’ll get in trouble.
‘‘Tell your kids it doesn’t have to be me or us (parents), you can talk to a family friend or a doctor or a friend’s parents.
‘‘My core message is that it’s okay to not be okay.
‘‘You can ask for help, and know that depression and anxiety is something that you can’t cure — it will always be there.
‘‘I’m in a good headspace now, but it’s an everyday thing.’’
If you would like to arrange a talk for your school, organisation or business, phone Scott on 0429 329 996 or email email@example.com.
■ Anyone requiring crisis support can contact Accessline on 1800 800 944 , Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Information is also available at www.denimentalhealth.org.au.