Science museum tackles mental health with “Mind Matters” exhibit

Mental Health Awareness Month brings heightened awareness as Mental Health America leads a multitude of outreach activities throughout the month of May. The newest exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota Mind Matters has joined the fray and effectively encourages audiences to talk about mental illness.

“Just like our Race: Are We So Different? exhibit creates a respectful, thoughtful, engaging space to explore the science, history, and modern existence of race and racism, we wanted to create a similar space to raise awareness about mental health,” Cari Dwyer, project leader of Mind Matters, said.

Personal narratives are essential to Mind Matters. Audiences listen to other’s experience with mental illness and have opportunities to share their own. #MakeItOkay runs through the entire exhibit, aiming to normalize conversation around mental health. The exhibit is incredibly immersive, making Mind Matters approachable. Interactive activities including games about expression and emotion as well as opportunities to experience simulated symptoms of mental illness offer a window into the struggles that 43.8 million American adults face each year.

Mind Matters was originally based in Helsinki, Finland and toured Europe before making its way to Minnesota.

“The Science Museum of Minnesota heard about the groundbreaking exhibit at a museum conference we attended, and a couple of people on our team went to visit the exhibit while it was on tour in Europe. They saw that it was interactive and engaging, and they eventually worked out an agreement with the team at Heureka that would let the us lease the rights to tour the exhibit in North America,” Dwyer said.

The message of mental health awareness is universal, but a language barrier initially stood in the way as Mind Matters transitioned between countries.

“The original exhibit had very powerful interviews with people talking about living with mental illnesses, but the interviews were in Finnish and French. We wanted to feature similar interviews, but we wanted them to be in English. So, we worked with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (called NAMI Minnesota), to connect with people who wanted to share their stories of living with mental illnesses. Their stories about how mental illnesses affected them, how they got help, and how they are managing their recovery today can teach us a lot,” said Dwyer.

The Science Museum no doubt rose above the language barrier; the interviews are painful and powerful, yet all interviewees are optimistic. The future of mental health treatment and awareness, especially through movements like that present at the Science Museum, is hopeful.

“After all, mental illness is so common, that it really affects all of us, or a close friend or family member. And, that’s the real message of the exhibit: Mental illnesses are common. They can affect anyone at anytime. And, they’re treatable,” Dwyer said.

Mind Matters is open at the Science Museum of Minnesota through Jan. 9.