Mind & Body

Home and Away’s Nic Westaway talks therapy and mental health

Mental health is thankfully becoming more of an honest, open conversation. After completing The Pushup Challenge to raise money for mental health resources and suicide prevention, former Home and Away star Nic Westaway shares his story. 

Nic Westaway was at the height of his Home and Away fame when he was invited to take part in a charity event for the Telethon Kids Institute. Known as a bit of a heartthrob, a group of enthusiastic teenage girls asked Westaway for a photo, which he happily obliged. Dr. Jonathan Carapetis, Director of the organisation and renowned paediatric physician, took the photo.

“My brain sort of imploded a little bit,” recalls Westaway.

As a society, we put actors on a tremendous pedestal. In a 2013 survey conducted by Reader’s Digest, Oscar winner Tom Hanks was voted the Most Trusted Man in America, where Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert J Lefkowitz scored 11th and then-president Barack Obama ranked 65th.

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This kind of idolisation of Hollywood stars was troubling to Westaway, who said all actors really do is “read words off a page,” meanwhile the “guy who saves lives and changes children’s futures and cures diseases” was on the other side of the camera.

“It flipped me out a bit,” Westaway remembers.

The 32-year-old had experienced struggles with mental health in the past, but this was a moment that rattled him.

“Therapy is something I’d thought about for a long time, and if I’m honest, I wish that I did more therapy earlier on,” he says.

Chalk it up to the Aussie culture of ‘she’ll be right’, we have historically bottled up or ignored our emotions and belittled anyone, men in particular, who’ve sought assistance. For Westaway, who grew up in Margaret River, that stigma was certainly the prevalent way of thinking, even though he was “lucky to have a very supportive household.”

Acting became a kind of coping mechanism that allowed Westaway to pretend to be someone else when he wasn’t happy in his own skin. But his newfound celebrity as Kyle Braxton wasn’t something he felt entirely comfortable with.

“When I was unhappy in my life, that’s okay, I can become a character,” he says. “Once I completed my contract on Home and Away, and kept having people recognise me from the show, it distanced me from me. And I didn’t really know what to do with that feeling.”

But for about half of the last year, Westaway has seen a therapist. He committed to weekly sessions and he loved it. It wasn’t just about working through his thoughts but learning the tools required to get himself back on track.

“Therapy gave me strategies to use so that if I have a down day, the day after that, I’m not back to where I was, I’m a step forward,” he says.

Nic’s now a passionate advocate for destigmatising mental health. After a chat with fellow mental health advocate Nick Bracks, Westaway joined The Pushup Challenge, which raises money for suicide prevention and mental health resources by encouraging entrants to complete 3,318 push-ups in 25 days.

The urgency of these much-needed services became all the more meaningful to Westaway, who lost two personal connections to suicide during the challenge.

“That absolutely hit me luck a ton of bricks,” he says.

This year, The Pushup Challenge raised more than $8.6 million to direct to crucial mental health resources and on a personal level, Westaway attracted $1,500 in donations.

His business in the acting world isn’t done, though he’s “less and less concerned” with whether that will be a Hollywood blockbuster or local theatre.

“There’s a lot to life,” he says, and it sounds like he wants to experience as much of it as he can.

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available at Lifeline: ph 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: ph 1300 22 4636.