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Bianca was first raped three days before she sat her HSC trials. The same man attacked her again later that year and again two years after that assault.

She did not tell anyone about the first rape because she did not know where to go.

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

Bianca, now 27, said she struggled to find appropriate treatment and support for 10 years, and over that time was repeatedly misdiagnosed and made to feel ashamed by the medical profession.

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

Bianca says the specialized trauma care she received has saved her life.

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

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

New center, new hope

For years Dr Williams has been part of a push led by the Illawarra Women’s Health Center to see the creation of a dedicated Women’s Trauma Recovery Center.

That project was granted $ 25 million for a five-year program in the recent federal budget.

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

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

driveway of building with nice lighting
The new all-women, trauma-informed hospital in Thirroul is set to open in August.(Supplied: Ramsay Health)

The 43-bed unit will offer dedicated treatment of complex PTSD among women who have suffered domestic and sexual abuse.

Ms Mortimer has asked Dr Williams to lead the new hospital.

‘I had a whole path of destruction’

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

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

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

She cut and burnt herself and repeatedly overdosed.

“Once I started getting the proper treatment… I started looking after myself and prioritizing myself and understanding that there is nothing wrong with me.”

Woman sitting smiling in a room
Dr Mortimer says the unit will also be a training center for psychiatric, medical, psychological and other allied health and nursing students.(Supplied: Ramsay Health)

‘Game-changer’ for women

Ramsay Health is spending about $ 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 came to her for treatment had often previously been forced to share the space in a PTSD group with men who could potentially trigger their PTSD.

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