The National Museum of Mental Health Project researches the use of exhibits to transform society's attitudes about,

and understanding of, mental health. 

The Project seeks to:

  • Share research related to exhibits about mental health and wellness. 

  • Facilitate collaboration among artists, curators, exhibit designers, mental health professionals, people with lived experience, and others who seek to share knowledge.

  • Inspire the development of a national museum of mental health that is a museum-without-walls. This may take the form of a new nonprofit entity, or emerge organically from vigorous collaboration and sharing of know-how.

 

The Project extends from a research fellowship at Assumption College. 

Site Created by Designer Kate Kruzick 

Findings:

Based upon research interviews with curators and directors of exhibits, we conclude that significant efforts have been made into creating exhibits about mental wellness that extend beyond a simple focus on history. The below chart quantifies the distribution of exhibits with respect to their goals and characteristics.

 

Exhibition goals include:

  • Provide factual information on mental health

  • Break stigma

  • Enable identity/empathy formation

  • Promote wellness for all visitors

Exhibition characteristics include:

  • Developed in partnership with clinicians

  • Exhibited at multiple museums

  • Exhibited using social entrepreneurship

  • Promotes history content RE: mental illness

A nascent trend exits in North America with respect to the development of exhibits about mental health. 

 

The seven exhibits researched were curated by The Science Museum of Minnesota, Savannah College of Art & Design, Museum of Science (Boston), McLean Hospital, Grand Rapid Public Museum (MI), Society for Contemporary Craft (PA), and the Creativity Caravan (NJ). These exhibitions share common goals and characteristics:

Impacts:

Visitor Impacts

  • Interviews with curators suggest there seems to be a positive impact on visitors based upon vague qualitative data, such as emotional expression and voiced connection to certain aspects within each exhibit. 

  • Although some indicators of the positive effects of these exhibits exist, they are not sufficiently quantitative to measure impacts. 

  • The use of research to examine visitor-level impacts is beyond the capabilities of individual museums.

 

Societal Impacts

  • Most exhibits we found have been stationary, and single-location, which means that only a certain population will experience their effect.

  • Creative resources are expended, along with the investment of materials, labor and overhead, but impact is limited to one, or several, locations. 

  • The challenge of maximizing societal impacts of exhibits about mental health is beyond the capabilities of individual museums and requires systematic coordination

Evidence indicates that the exhibitions not only made impacts on individual visitors, but on community perspectives about mental health. It is recognized that a lack of quantitative data about impact need to be addressed to better describe the exhibits’ potential.  More research is required to develop a sufficient measurement method that can help convince others that these exhibits are “doing their job” in promoting and improving mental wellness.