Women's Health Centre councillor Alicia Harris with Belinda.
Women's Health Centre councillor Alicia Harris with Belinda. Chris Ison ROK051017ccounsellor1

The free service that saved this Rocky woman's life

A FEW years ago, Belinda sat inside her house with the curtains drawn, repeatedly contemplating how she could end it all.

But in the space of months, her life is almost unrecognisable.

Now Belinda, whose last name we have omitted for privacy reasons, says she has reclaimed her life and is once again living it to the fullest without the fear an anxiety resulting from historic sexual abuse.

Belinda spoke to The Morning Bulletin during Sexual Violence Awareness Month, eager to show that help from local services was what had changed her spiral of mental health issues.

"I went through lots of places ... and they didn't help me at all,” she said.

"I struggled with self-harm and a whole heap of things.”

Then Belinda found the Women's Health Centre on Bolsover St and was referred to their free sexual assault support service.

Open to men and women of all ages, the service is all about creating a safe space where clients never feel pressure to officially report any instances of abuse they've experienced.

"I came to women's health and I was really scared. Honestly, I was a mess,” Belinda said.

"But I found it was the best place. It has made me so much better.”

Counsellor Alicia Harris, Belinda's key support, said the centre was all about understanding what leads to crisis and preventing it from happening in the future.

In comparison, other public mental health services may only have the resources to deal with people in the midst of that crisis.

"Women's health has really been there,” Belinda said. "And not just Alicia. Everyone here has made me feel so welcome.

"I don't trust very easy, but this is my safe place.

"If I feel like I'm in danger of hurting myself, I will think 'okay, where do I go?' and I'll come here.

"And I'll just sit, just sit in the front, just sit there and then I'll just get myself together and then I'm right to go again.”

Aside from the free counselling, Belinda has taken advantage of the other community classes offered at the centre, including yoga and craft groups.

The yoga and meditation classes have been of particular help, with Belinda explaining the techniques helped her to relieve the stress of the week.

GET HELP

  • Women's Health Centre sexual assault support service is a free and confidential counselling service
  • The Women's Health Centre will screen Don't Tell as part of Sexual Violence Awareness Month on Thursday, October 26 at Event Cinemas. $25 per person. RSVP by October 20 to Alicia on 49 226 585.
  • If you or someone you know needs help, contact:
  • Sexual Assault Hotline: 1800 010 120
  • BeyondBlue: 1300 22 4636
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14

It's one of the first places Belinda has felt embraced in a long time.

"It's so laid back and so non-judgemental that you just feel so welcome and you feel like actually loved,” she said. "I haven't had a lot of love in my life and I feel like it's a loving place to be.”

For Belinda, and many others who use the centre, having the courage to ask for help is sometimes the hardest step to take.

"You think 'am I going to be judged'?” Belinda said.

"The things I have told women's health, I have never told anyone else.

"It makes me feel so good. It makes me feel like I'm living my life again.

"Because before I just didn't have a life and now I get to go to arts and craft, and I get to go to yoga and I get to come here and I get to see the ladies. I love it.”

Alicia said clients were never pressured to report any abuse, but would be fully supported if they chose to do so.

"It's so important to have a safe space and sometimes it's not even so much about the therapy, that comes in time,” she said.

"It's more about the rapport you build up with the individual.

"If they can't trust you, if they don't feel safe nothing good can come from it.

"So it is also about not feeling judged, being believed is huge I think.

"There's no pressure to report things to police because that's not for some people. It's really driven by the client as to what they want to get out of the session, which I think is important.”



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