Out of the shadows

Andrew Mathieson
BRUCE Scott has a better understanding than most about what makes the mind tick.
It was 50 years ago that he first confronted and lived beside a mental illness.
His first wife had a nervous breakdown and Bruce was totally unprepared for what was to come.
“I knew nothing about it,” Bruce tells.
“I was just a young lad, 23, just newly married.
“Shoosh – it was all swept under the carpet.”
Doses of lithium carbonate, the wonder drug used to stabilise manic-depressive patients but also applied in prisoner of war camps, relieved the burden some of the time.
Bruce was a senior buyer for Ford back then and had to juggle work commitments with being her sole carer.
“Somehow I got through all those years but in those days it was just about being on a drug all day long,” he explains.
A year on, in 1957, Bruce met with leading psychiatric doctors on the second floor of Baxter House to get help for the mentally unfit.
Dr Eric Cunningham Dax, Chairman of the Victorian Mental Health Authority from 1952 to 1968, committed to a “couple of beds” in Geelong Hospital before Dax House was built.
The doctor’s photo still adorns the wall of the facility at the Swanson Centre.
“It’s not a story of Bruce Scott; it’s been a good story of where two or three people can gather together and make a movement,” Bruce says, then whispers, “but in my day you didn’t talk about it.”
Mental Health Week, which concludes tomorrow, hopes to break down a stigma that still remains.
Bruce, for one, is quick to explain that patients are not mentally sick – they just have a mental sickness and are capable of functioning in society.
In the same breath, the lifelong volunteer believes solving the mysteries of the brain is still a long way off.
“I defy anyone,” he says, thumping his fist down twice, “anyone, so-called psychiatrists and counsellors, to pick what goes through the brain of a person.
“I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.
“Today they’re beautiful, the next day, you know, they’re terrible.”
The 73-year-old has also counselled many in isolated parts of rural Australia, some breaking down in front of him.
“I’ve seen it in the mining industry and I’ve seen grown men put their hands through glass doors,” Bruce says.
“I’ve also seen it in country New South Wales where the drought is.”
Bruce was raised in the Riverina and still deals with farmers coping with depression.
He also wears many other hats.
Playing his part in the Geelong Community Chest – now known as United Way – Bruce was on the inaugural Loaned Executive Program through Ford back in 1966.
Today he’s the vice-chairman of Geelong Mood Support Group, a benefactor to the Alfred Baker Cardiovascular Research.
He was recently made a Justice of the Peace and is also learning to sign for the deaf.
“When I came back to Geelong I thought ‘what am I going to do’,” Bruce says.
“I thought I would do some positive because I have all this knowledge. Not the academic stuff but living with it.
“Raising a family – seeing your kiddies cry beside their mum. You know, real life, gutsy stuff.”
Bruce, however, is now easing up and intends on standing down from the mood group at next week’s annual general meeting.
He philosophically sums up his work.
“I’ve done my 50 years and it’s time to step down,” he announces.
“You have to have a very strong-minded body to keep up with it.
“It’s like walking through a forest.
“The sun comes out, the light comes out, the shadows come out – that’s mental health.”