First Australian hospital to treat women traumatized by domestic and sexual violence

Bianca was first raped three days before participating in her HSC trials. The same man attacked her again later that year and again two years after that attack.

She didn’t tell anyone about the first rape because she didn’t know where to go.

“I got depressed and anxious, I was hyper-vigilant all the time,” she said.

Bianca, now 27, said she struggled to find proper treatment and support for 10 years, and during that time she was repeatedly misdiagnosed and had shame of the medical profession.

Then, six months ago, she began treatment with Wollongong consultant psychiatrist Karen Williams, who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bianca says the specialist trauma care she received saved her life.

Dr. Karen Williams has secured support to start an all-female, trauma-informed, specialist mental health facility.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Fortunately, says Dr Williams, a new all-female mental health facility for women with PTSD caused by domestic, family and sexual violence – due to open in Wollongong – could mean others in Bianca’s situation will receive appropriate help much sooner.

New center, new hope

For years, Dr. Williams has been involved in a campaign led by the Illawarra Women’s Health Center to see the creation of a recovery center for traumatized women.

This project received $25 million for a five-year program in the recent federal budget.

But Dr Williams said she also saw a need for hospital services to treat women, so she contacted Ramsay Mental Health Australia director Anne Mortimer, explained what she was trying to accomplish and asked if the private health service could give him “one service only”. .

The result is Australia’s first all-female, trauma-informed mental health facility, due to open in August.

building walkway with beautiful lighting
The new all-female, trauma-informed hospital in Thirroul is due to open in August.(Provided: Ramsay Health)

The 43-bed unit will offer dedicated treatment for complex PTSD in women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence.

Ms. Mortimer asked Dr. Williams to run the new hospital.

“I had a whole path of destruction”

Bianca said if she had been able to receive proper trauma care – with access to all-female therapy groups – years ago, her life might have been different.

“I was misdiagnosed with anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder [borderline personality disorder]bipolar,” she said.

“I was told I was just a ‘sensitive person’ by professionals who didn’t understand why my behaviors and emotions were the way they were because I was raped multiple times.”

She cut and burned herself and overdosed several times.

“Once I started getting the proper treatment…I started taking care of myself, prioritizing myself and understanding that there was nothing wrong with me.”

Woman sitting smiling in a room
Dr Mortimer says the unit will also be a training center for students in psychiatry, medicine, psychology and other allied health and nursing fields.(Provided: Ramsay Health)

“Game changer” for women

Ramsay Health is spending around $8 million to renovate a disused rehabilitation clinic in Thirroul, just north of Wollongong, for the new hospital.

“I think it’s going to be a game-changer, it’s going to offer a completely different style of therapy,” Dr. Williams said.

She said women and children who come to her for treatment have often been forced to share the space of a PTSD group with men who may be triggering their PTSD.

“You can imagine a rape survivor being in a group with a big policeman or a tough soldier – they’re not going to feel comfortable in that setting and so the treatments aren’t always helpful,” said- she declared.

Psychologist Merrylord Harb will lead the hospital’s group work and said it will be a space where women can feel safe, worthy, confident and have choice.

“The programs are designed to help women understand their experience and what they have been through, they are informed about trauma from the beginning, middle and end,” she said.

“These are normal women who are going to have the opportunity to find themselves and grow.”

Hopes for future public beds

Initially, the facility will be private and accessible to women with private health insurance, but Dr Williams said she has high hopes for public-private collaboration in the future.

“We all recognize that it wouldn’t be fair or just if people who don’t have money couldn’t afford it, but we have to start somewhere,” she said.

“At this point where we have nothing at all, we are happy to have this to show that it works to prove that the concept is important and useful and to use the results to argue that this should be available for all women. in Australia.”

Bianca said it wouldn’t have taken her 10 years to find the care she needed.

Post , update