A Surrey woman says she “absolutely honoured” to receive an award that recognizes community leaders.
Shilpa Narayan, who is a mental health and social justice activist, recently received Sher Vancouver’s January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award which is awarded to someone “who has demonstrated involvement, commitment, and leadership in the LGBTQ community,” according to Sher Vancouver.
She received the Gold Award which included a prize of $1,000.
Narayan, who is studying gender, sexuality and women studies at Simon Fraser University, said the money will go toward continuing her education to get a master’s degree. She said her goal is to become a drama therapist.
Narayan said she created a platform called “How a Struggle Became a Journey: Connection and Conversation for Mental Health and Wellness,” and through that, she travels to for workshops on mental health advocacy, education and literacy.
“Then I also intersect that with my social justice work, working with marginalized communities in how we can embrace diversity and inclusion,” she said.
“I have done work in the community, and for me… it’s ensuring a safe space because there are intersections between marginalized youth and mental health, but there’s really intersections with mental health with anyone from any community. I am very lucky that I’ve been given a platform — that I’ve built this platform — to be able to have those kinds of conversations,” Narayan said.
Narayan said she follows “the three Cs;” connection, conversation and change. She said the three Cs shows why relationships are so important.
“Because, ultimately, they can save a life. That saved my life.”
Narayan’s journey to social justice activism began at the age of 12 when she was diagnosed with “depression and severe generalized anxiety.” She said she was at “rock bottom,” but one teacher reached out to her to show her she wasn’t alone and that there was “strength in vulnerability.”
When Narayan was in Grade 10 and going through therapy and counselling, she continued to call her journey with mental health a “struggle.”
“My therapist told me that (by) calling it a struggle, we’re giving it that negative power,” she said. “We’re giving our story a negative power by calling it a struggle, so we should call it a journey because we are continuously going through this in life.”
Now, Narayan said, her opportunities to travel around and speak and work with “marginalized youth” has been “life-changing.”
“There’s been a lot of youth that hearing my story, they’ve opened up and shared their own stories and have started programs in their schools and are helping others. It’s a domino effect, these conversations.,” she said.
“When we start to talk about resiliency, when we start to talk about inclusion and diversity, oftentimes, it is a domino effect because one person will take your story and share it with another. When they share that story with another, they are adding their own story into it, too, and that’s my biggest goal in my work is that we just continue to share our stories, we continue to talk, we continue to have conversations because it saves lives.”
Narayan was also recognized as one of Surrey’s “Top 25 Under 25” in April of 2018.