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 

Method:

Starting point: Museums on Call: How museums are addressing health Issues, American Alliance of Museums, 2013. Among ~150 instances of museums addressing health issues - just three focused upon mental health. None was an exhibit.  

 

By 2018, new research conducted by the authors found at least 12 instances in North America of exhibits at the intersection of museums and mental health. 

To find museums and exhibitions that are about mental health, we researched through databases and other online search engines, including google. Search results included many exhibits about the history of mental illness, including how it was viewed and “treated.” Many museums and exhibits focused on the horrifying events in mental illness history. We were searching more for exhibits about positive mental health and well-being. A list of museums and exhibits about mental health was created and we used the below criteria to determine which to study further. 

  • Located in North America

  • Showcased within the last five years

  • Does not have a predominant focus on history

  • Increases mental health literacy

  • Created through social entrepreneurship

 

After choosing museums and exhibits that more accurately matched our criteria, we examined their websites in detail and we conducted telephone and in-person interviews with the curators and directors of the exhibits. In some cases, we visited the exhibits themselves. We asked them questions that explore:

  • Goal of the exhibit

  • Who the exhibit was targeted towards

  • Any partnerships or alliances involved with the exhibit

  • The size of the exhibit

  • The order in which the elements of the exhibit were presented

  • If there were any interactive aspects or interpreters at the exhibit

  • If there was a charge to pay to see the exhibit

  • The costs of the exhibit

  • How the exhibit was promoted

  • The measurement of effect the exhibit had on visitors

  • Who the visitors of the exhibits were

  • If the exhibit was a success or not

  • Which part of the exhibit worked best

The Life of the Mind - photo used with permission from the Grand Rapids Public Museum