The Science Museum of Virginia is helping create a safe space for conversations around mental illness at the touring exhibition “Mental Health: Mind Matters” which opened this month. By highlighting this important topic, the Museum wants to help people recognize that it’s OK to talk about mental health as it is part of overall health.
The exhibit tackles an important subject because mental illness can happen to anyone. It touches just about everyone in some way, and yet it is often misunderstood. Misconceptions and stigma can lead to suffering, prejudice and discrimination. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia estimates that between 1.1 and 1.5 million Virginians have some form of mental illness and about 102,000 children and adolescents living in the state have a serious emotional disturbance. The exhibition strives to create a safe environment to learn about and discuss mental health, and to raise awareness and develop empathy for people with mental illness.
“We’re grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the vital national dialogue about mental health,” said Museum Director of Playful Learning and Inquiry Timshel Purdum. “This is an extremely important topic, especially coming off the tumultuous year that was 2020. The exhibition is designed to help guests feel comfortable having conversations about a serious topic. It presents the science of mental health in an approachable way for all audiences.”
The 5,000-square-foot “Mental Health: Mind Matters” touring exhibition uses immersive experiences and multimedia activities to raise awareness about mental illness, starting with the fact that mental illness is not a choice or personal flaw, but instead a medical condition that requires care. Despite being portrayed as dangerous, unpredictable and scary in pop culture, with support and treatment, those living with mental health challenges can live productive, fulfilling and happy lives. Through role-playing stations, testimonials, quizzes, historical scenarios and more, the exhibition helps build empathy, respect and acceptance.
The exhibition allows guests to identify and express emotions, an exercise that also includes tips parents can use when teaching their children healthy ways to express feelings. It also explores the symptoms, causes and treatments of some of the more common mental illnesses, such as PTSD and depression. Although mental illness is treatable, not everyone seeks help or is aware that medical intervention options are available. The exhibition label copy uses supportive language throughout, and encourages guests to think about how the words they use to discuss mental health can have an impact. At the end, the exhibition provides those who choose to share personal stories the opportunity to do so.
“This exhibition provides a thoughtful platform to discuss the science of mental health,” said Museum Scientist in Residence Dr. Catherine Franssen. “By turning the lens inside our minds, this exhibition provides inspiration to learn more about current scientific progress in mental health research and a wide variety of careers in science, medicine and allied health professions. We hope this exhibition serves as a launching point for more conversations about neuroscience and how it relates to wellness.”
Not only will the exhibition be a powerful tool in creating conversations about mental health, but the Museum will also be offering companion virtual programming and resources in cooperation with area nonprofits to dive deeper into themes covered in the show. In addition, while “Mental Health: Mind Matters” is on display, the Museum is hosting “Creative Arts Therapies,” an exhibit featuring local examples of the various ways the arts can be used for therapeutic purposes, such as singing, dancing, sculpting and painting.
“Mental Health: Mind Matters” will be at the Museum through August 29, 2021. It was produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota with Heureka, The Finnish Science Centre and their partners, Ciencia Viva and Cite des Sciences & L’industrie. The exhibition is sponsored locally by WestRock.
Entry to “Mental Health: Mind Matters” is included with Museum admission. Museum members and children two and under are admitted free. The Museum offers discounts for military, teachers and EBT cardholders. Call 804.864.1400 for details about reserving tickets with the discount code. Museum operating hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry on Wednesdays in February is $10 admission.
The Museum has adjusted operating procedures, including purchasing tickets online in advance, to help ensure a safe environment for all who enter the building. Guests are encouraged to review the reopening policies on the Museum’s website at smv.org/welcome before their visit.
About the Science Museum of Virginia
From virtual presentations featuring STEM experts to fun videos on social media to in-person experiential exhibits, the Science Museum of Virginia looks for all opportunities to inspire Virginians to enrich their lives through science. Helping curious minds discover the connections between — and their connection to — science, technology, engineering and math guides Museum staff in all they do. Learn more at www.smv.org or call 804.864.1400.
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