University of Toronto grad advocates for preventative mental health treatment
Just before her sixteenth birthday, when most teenage girls are hanging out with friends, going out on dates and dreaming of going away to school, Marie Asuncion was experiencing paranoia, feeling anxious and hearing voices. After several weeks of ongoing and increasing symptoms, Marie had a full-blown episode of psychosis and was rushed to the hospital for assessment. At the time, Marie and her family were not aware that this was only the first of many changes to come.
Shortly after, Marie was referred to CAMH where she was diagnosed with first episode psychosis and learned she had an imbalance of dopamine, an essential chemical transmitter in the brain. Marie was constantly praying that this ‘thing’ would just go away and hid her illness from teachers and friends for fear of stigma. Once an “A” student, Marie remembers becoming disorganized at school, losing her friends and feeling afraid and isolated. “I was clinging to the hope that I would get better soon – but it never happened until I started visiting CAMH regularly and taking my medication daily.”
Marie was treated at the First Episode Psychosis Clinic, one of five elements that comprise CAMH’s First Episode Psychosis Program (FEPP), a comprehensive program designed to meet the needs of young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, assisting them and their families with the initial period of recovery and adjustment.
Over the years, Marie has learned to recognize her symptoms of psychosis and act quickly to get help when they begin to reemerge. Regular visits to her health care providers at CAMH help Marie manage her illness and maintain a positive balance in all areas of her life.
In addition to numerous extracurricular and leadership initiatives, Marie is a regular speaker for CAMH’s Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest, a public education program for high school students to help increase awareness and understanding of mental illness. Marie also acts as a spokesperson for the FEPP Program’s PRIME Clinic, encouraging youth who may be at risk of psychosis to seek help early in an effort to prevent or delay the development of the illness.
An accomplished harpist, Marie finds a comforting outlet in her music. She graduates this year with a Bachelors Degree in Music Performance at the University of Toronto with plans to become a music teacher. She currently teaches private piano lessons as well as group music lessons at a children’s camp. In addition, she also performs with her harp at weddings. Marie’s passion for music, faith in God, and support from friends, family and CAMH, allow her to live a life full of possibility - and inspire others to do the same.
Update on Marie: Marie is now a concert-level harpist and frequent public speaker on behalf of CAMH, raising awareness of mental health issues. She has recorded a public service announcement for Mental Illness Awareness Week, participated in a video about first episode psychosis and is a participant in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay.