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Growing up in a privileged family in the Philippines, surrounded by brothers and sisters, it sounds like 17-year-old Gizelle de Guzman had the world at her feet. But in her young life, Gizelle has faced more adversity and upheaval than any child should ever have to. In a few short years, Gizelle had to deal with the loss of her mother to cancer, a mugging, sexual assault, the culture shock of moving to small town Alberta from the Philippines, and then the loss of her step-mother to cancer. Already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by these horrific events, Gizelle soon found herself struggling to cope with the staggering changes in her life in a school environment where some kids were less than welcoming. Life became unbearable for the creative and musically-talented teen. She’d always been active in school, on teams, with a regular spot on the honour roll. She soon became withdrawn, sad and shy – and began turning alcohol and pot as a distraction. She isolated herself from her family, and didn’t share with them what she was going through. And what she was going through was utter and total despair which overwhelmed her to the point where the only way to escape it was to overdose – drugs, perfume and paint thinner.
It was this attempt on her own life that put Gizelle on the Mental Health Unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital for three months two summers ago. She was allowed no belongings for her own safety and watched all the time. Gizelle was devastated, sad, angry and terrified. It took a several weeks for Gizelle to realize the Mental Health experts were there to help her and to trust them. But once she was able to open up to her care team, the help came fast and furious. Working with a psychologist, undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, along with group and individual counselling, Gizelle learned important coping skills such as positive affirmation. Music is a big part of Gizelle’s life and the staff at ACH tapped into that. In fact, Gizelle wrote a song for a friend she met on the Mental Health Unit, which is going to perform this morning.
Gizelle is grateful for the help she received and feels it’s important to get help as early as possible. It’s important to her to be an advocate of child and youth mental health.