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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Catherine White

Catherine White

Catherine describes the impact that trauma has had on her mental health, and said her personal experiences of trauma began during her childhood, but that she had a delayed reaction.

When someone has been through a traumatic experience, they may not view it as a crisis at the time. However, it’s bound to have some effect down the track, particularly when they are confronted with a similar situation.

Around 20 years ago, Catherine landed her perfect job. Not long after she started, she was subjected to severe bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace, which impacted her mental health and led to her experiencing extreme anxiety and fear. Catherine started regularly drinking alcohol and eventually resigned from the role.

I just fell in a heap. My coping mechanism for any stress was alcohol. I was binge‑drinking for nearly seven years.

After deciding that she needed help, Catherine booked into a rehabilitation program at a private clinic.

I was lucky because I had private health insurance and the money to be admitted to a rehabilitation program. It’s a huge decision to seek that help when you are dealing with so much humiliation and shame.

Following rehabilitation, Catherine experienced a relapse and saw a psychologist who diagnosed her with post‑traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I felt a bit relieved after receiving that diagnosis because I had something to work with. I was not someone who had just gone onto alcohol, it was symptomatic of something else.

Catherine said that at the time, dual diagnosis was new and not many people drew the connection between trauma, mental health and addiction. She says that after her PTSD diagnosis, she was still drinking alcohol.

During the second phase of her recovery journey, Catherine found a GP who understood addiction and mental health, and the linkages between the two.

I was referred to a GP who is an angel. She has offered me so much empathy, compassion and support without any judgement.

Catherine doesn’t believe a person’s recovery journey has an end date and says it’s not necessarily a linear process. She calls it a ‘staggered process’ of recovery.

Recovery requires looking at all aspects, taking a holistic approach of a person’s life and putting in place a range of safety nets and supports so that if one falls over, the person can sort or lift themselves up with another.

For me, recovery is about making sure I feel safe, reviewing relationships in my life and about having purpose to my pain.

Source: Witness Statement of Catherine White, 2 July 2020.