Mental health can both be difficult to discuss and hard to understand due to – among other reasons – a long history of stigma and misinformation.  In recent years as information has been able to reach further and move more freely, people have been able to better understand mental health disorders and tend to believe that treatment is effective.  However, despite this, there are still distinct prejudices, misunderstandings and fears that are directed towards people with these kinds of disorders.  According to a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), mental health disorders continue to be the most stigmatized health conditions and “they remain barriers to full participation in society in areas as basic as education, housing, and employment.”

#Makeitok. Photos by Joe Praska

In an effort to address this, the Science Museum of Minnesota, in collaboration with Heureka, The Finnish Science Center, and their partners, Ciência Viva and Cité de Sciences & L’industrie, recently debuted a new exhibit called Mental Health: Mind Matters.  Similar to how the museum has encouraged visitors to talk openly and learn about race and racism through the exhibit RACE: Are We So Different?, the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit seeks to promote open discourse, dispel myths, and to “make it OK” to talk about mental health.

The exhibit is uniquely interactive as one might come to expect from the Science Museum of Minnesota.  As stated in coverage of the exhibit from Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, visitors can expect to “play an emotion recognition game and try to act out emotions using only facial expressions.  Don special headphones to experience how people in psychosis are unable to filter sounds.  Explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders.  Discover artistic activities that can help in coping with emotions.  Even send your worries through the Worry Shredder—and find out what that means!”

With all that, the exhibit also paints a picture of the history of various mental health disorders and their treatment throughout the world, presents several personal stories from people affected by mental health disorders and provides meaningful access to mental health resources.

A section of the exhibit depicting the histories of various psychiatric treatments. Photos by Joe Praska

According to the World Health Organization, around 25% of people in the world will be affected by a mental health or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, and around 450 million people are currently living with one of these conditions.  This makes mental health disorders one of the “leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”  Yet despite this, many of these conditions are still discussed with hushed tones, kept as “family secrets,” or looked upon with judgement and shame.  As one individual telling their story in the exhibit explained, “you may not have a mental illness, but somebody you know does.”

While Mental Health: Mind Matters shows us just how prevalent mental health disorders are in our world, it also shows us how treatable they really are.  Through education, interaction and conversation, the exhibit and those behind it seek to emphasize not only the challenges that mental health disorders can present but the courage and bravery of those living with these conditions day-to-day.

The resounding theme running through this exhibit is the idea that speaking up and talking about mental health is monumental in combating the stigma.  Encouraging the use of the hashtag, #makeitOK, the exhibit presses us to carry this conversation outside of its walls.

The Science Museum of Minnesota is the first museum in North America to debut the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit.  It will stay here throughout the rest of the year and then begin its tour through science museums across the continent after January 6th, 2019.