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Now I can see where I'm heading

Denise (left) with Red Cross support worker Beverley Sambo. Denise is overjoyed about her new-found direction and career plans as a drug and alcohol counsellor.

Western Australian woman Denise Nelson knows what it's like to be at rock bottom. Which is why she is overjoyed about her new-found direction and career plans as a drug and alcohol counsellor.

Denise has survived years of domestic violence, alcoholism, depression and self harm, which saw her hospitalised several times.

With the support of Red Cross, this mother of seven is well on the way to recovery and regaining her health. Denise says the first thing she did was learn how to read and write. Then she went on to gain an amazing three qualifications in drug and alcohol counselling and she is currently studying a mental health course.

It was when she was in hospital that she first heard how Red Cross could provide a support worker.

Speaking on a sunny winter's day in the Red Cross Short Stay Facility in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Denise says her original Red Cross worker stayed with her for three years helping her get back on her feet.

"He never gave up on me," she says with a smile. She said Tony Stephenson was a key person who provided her with very valuable support and guidance during some very challenging times.

"I went through a lot. I was really struggling. I was in and out of a lot of violence but Red Cross helped me through that and I became stronger. I was on the edge of suicide and depressed. It was very heart breaking.

"Now I want to help other people get through what I've been through."

The journey to recovery

Red Cross provided a caseworker to meet up with Denise regularly at a place that suited her. The worker supported Denise with many different aspects of her journey to recovery in achieving the outcomes she wanted, including strategies to manage everyday tasks, get her relationships back on track and connecting with other services and programs in the community.

Denise says the support from Red Cross staff including Beverley Sambo, and undertaking further study have been life-changing, giving her the courage she'd previously lacked. Red Cross recognises that mental health is a state of wellbeing; it is the ability to maintain relationships, cope with stress, contribute to the community and enjoy life.

"I was always asking for help but now I'm not asking for help," Denise says.

"I'm getting by, by myself and doing things by myself. Without doing the courses and without Red Cross being there for me I don't know where I'd be, because they have helped me through a lot, with myself and with my kids.

"Now I can actually see where I'm heading and I have goals. I can see who I am and what I want now. Back then I didn't know what I wanted."

Red Cross helps people on their journey to recover from mental illness, by supporting people to develop skills, build confidence, access services and participate in their community. We focus on strengths - what people with a mental illness can do, rather than what they can't do. Our workers meet with people in their own environment on their own terms - at a café, at home or just going for a drive and a chat.

Around 4.5 million Australians, or nearly 20 per cent of the population, experience mental illness each year. Some 45 per cent of Australians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.

Some 27 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience high or very high levels of psychological distress - twice the rate of the non-Indigenous population. Red Cross works in regional and remote communities, alongside the whole community to support people with social and emotional wellbeing concerns and increasing community awareness around mental health issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Denise's message to others going through a tough time?

"Be strong and keep going and don't give up! There's always something around the corner," she laughs. "Something better!"

This document may contain the names and/or images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are now deceased.

Photo: Lesley Desmond/Australian Red Cross

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