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Finding Her Voice

A young woman wearing blue coveralls stands in front of two cars with open engine bays. She is smiling and holds a wrench. She is in an automotive shop.
Gizelle de Guzman, Automotive and Repair student at Akerley Campus

Trigger Warning: This article contains information about suicide which may be triggering to some.

Gizelle de Guzman admits she was in denial for a long time when she was first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was not because she associated PTSD with first responders or military personnel. She just did not want to be classified as a person living with mental illness.

"But the more I thought about the diagnosis, the more it made sense, given the symptoms and the feelings I was going through," says Gizelle, an Automotive Service and Repair student at Akerley Campus. "I gradually realized that your mental illness does not make you who you are. What defines you is how you handle the struggles that you go through in life."

Ambassador and ally

If that is the case, then Gizelle has defined herself as a mental health ambassador and ally. She regularly volunteers with the Canadian Mental Health Association's events and initiatives, such as its community coffee house series. She participated in the Mental Health Foundation's 2019 Nocturne exhibit about PTSD and its 2019 Models for Mental Health event, which raised funds for Seeds of Success at Northwood. And she is regularly asked to speak about issues related to mental wellness at events such as WE Day Atlantic Canada.

"I don't get nervous sharing my story," she says. "I get super excited – not just because it makes me feel better to talk about it – but also because I get to connect with people who have similar struggles and build support networks so we can stay in touch and mentor each other when we need help."

Originally from the Philippines, Gizelle experienced several traumatic incidents, including the death of her mother and bullying early in life when her family moved to a small town in Alberta. "I had my first suicide attempt when I was in grade nine," she recalls. "That's when I realized that mental health is important and everyone is affected, in part because I was exposed to other kids my age who were dealing with the same thing."

‘You are not alone.’

It was during her recovery that Gizelle found her voice as a mental wellness advocate, not just because the hospital approached her to help raise public awareness, but also through her participation in music therapy. "I always loved music and was writing songs before my diagnosis, but it became a way for me to process my feelings," she says. "Eventually, I realized I could use my songs to help people work through their struggles and let them know they are not alone, so it's a win-win for me."

Gizelle continues to look for ways to share her experiences and help others in need, particularly at NSCC. "I am excited to be participating in the Mental Wellness campaign here and am thinking about ways to help like presentations or bringing in a therapy dog," Gizelle says. "There is a real commitment to diversity and inclusion here, and I'm looking forward to engaging everyone across the College on this important issue."

NOTE: If you are concerned about your own or someone else's safety, there are community supports available to you:

  • Mental Health Crisis Line (1-888-429-8167) provides 24/7 telephone crisis intervention and support
  • Nova Scotia 211 helps you find a community or social service in your area
  • SANE – 811 can put you in touch with the nearest Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program (SANE)

If you are an NSCC student, there is additional support available through the College. You can see a Student Services counsellor at your campus or access the Good2Talk helpline 24/7 at 1-833-292-3698. The service, available to Nova Scotia post-secondary students, offers access to qualified counsellors for support around a variety of topics.