Suraj Bansal is a second-year Health Sciences student at McMaster University, passionate about mental health advocacy and social medicine. Suraj’s philosophy towards community engagement is grounded by the conviction that he can empower and grow alongside others. This translates to numerous activities centered on fostering an environment to destigmatize mental health and engaging equity-seeking groups in these conversations.
Entering high school, Suraj noticed mental health discussions were gradually being reduced to recycled pamphlets and unproductive conversations with guidance counselors. Without spaces to address mental health, he witnessed the wellbeing of students decline as mental health dialogue became tainted with stigma. Suraj saw mental health challenges become something everyone experienced, but felt reluctant to discuss.
Determined to change that narrative, Suraj was elected President of YRDSB Student Senate where he represented 40,000+ students. Throughout his tenure, Suraj invested himself into numerous initiatives to champion mental health for high school students. Notably, Suraj secured $30,000 in funding to launch B.L.A.S.T. (Breaking Labels and Stigmas Together), an annual conference that engaged thousands of students in challenging mental health discussions. In addition to hosting SafeTALK suicide awareness workshops, Suraj provided every secondary school’s student council with the resources to continue these discussions within their own school communities.
After transitioning to university, Suraj realized mental health challenges weren’t exclusive to YRDSB. Rather it became increasingly prevalent for university students. To continue his involvement, Suraj became a Research Advisor for CAMH and joined their National Youth Council to guide the development of clinician-led research and policy development projects. Currently, Suraj is contributing to a COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy project focused on encouraging vaccine uptake among youth experiencing mental illness or substance abuse challenges.
Locally at McMaster, Suraj is involved with numerous equity-advancing organizations. Most recently, Suraj was appointed to McMaster’s Presidential Advisory Committee, where he joined a Racism and Racialization working group to identify intersectional forms of racism faced by BIPOC McMaster students. Furthermore, Suraj is assisting the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMsMART) with an observational study on safer supply prescriptions for individuals with treatment-refractory opioid use disorder. In addition to these activities, Suraj enjoys strumming his guitar, playing intramural sports, and exploring coffeeshops in Hamilton.