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The Synapse conference on mental health and neuroscience

A student idea that germinated last May and got put into action in September will culminate on April 24 with The Synapse conference.

Some 300 high school students from the Greater Toronto Area are expected to attend the conference at Upper Canada College, which will focus on mental health and neuroscience.

Surya Pandiaraju

Surya Pandiaraju

“Having been exposed to a variety of messages about mental health awareness over my time at UCC, I strongly feel that stories of personal encounters with mental illness resonated with me and my peers the most,” says Year 12 student Surya Pandiaraju, who founded the conference and is co-chairing it with University of Toronto Schools student Rachel Sava.

“In addition, as someone who has explored neuroscience outside of the classroom and also finds the brain to be absolutely fascinating, I also believe that integrating neuroscience in messages about mental health has a lot of potential when it comes to instilling the legitimacy and importance of mental health in society.”

The Synapse’s goals are to:

The Synapse will feature speakers who can speak about mental health and the brain on both a personal and neuroscientific level.

Branksome Hall Grade 12 student and conference executive member Emma Chow, who has struggled with mental health issues, will talk about her experiences and strategies she used during her recovery in an opening speech.

Peter “Furious Pete” Czerwinski

Peter “Furious Pete” Czerwinski

Pandiaraju is a fan of Canadian YouTube celebrity, competitive eater and fitness guru Peter “Furious Pete” Czerwinski, and recalled that he’d an interesting and inspirational encounter with anorexia. Conference organizers were able to book him for the closing address with financial assistance from the UCC leaving class of 1975, which has a fund that supports mental health education at the College.

Dr. Jeff Daskalakis (the father of Taso Daskalakis ’17), Dr. Brandon Walters and Dr. John Cunningham will also speak at The Synapse.

“When looking for speakers with a neuroscience expertise that could also speak to the connection to mental health, our team automatically knew the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) was a go-to,” says Pandiaraju. “We were able to get in touch with researchers from there who said that they would be interested in speaking at the event on a variety of incredibly relevant topics.

“I was also lucky enough to be able to secure a call with (UCC governor, past parent and CAMH president and chief executive officer) Dr. (Catherine) Zahn, who was able to connect me with other CAMH researchers that were willing to do poster presentations during our lunch break.”

The Synapse will also have workshops hosted by representatives and post-secondary students to get attendees to engage with and reflect on mental health awareness in their communities in order to assess what can be done to improve it moving forward.

Registration opens on April 4 on The Synapse’s Eventbrite page. The $10 registration fee to attend also covers lunch and snacks.

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