Every year there is more and more discussion about mental health and how to spread awareness and eliminate stigma associated with it. Hopkinton’s Emily Taylor is hoping she can play a role in helping this movement continue to go forward.
Taylor, a college junior at Holy Cross, is a communications intern with an organization called National Museum of Mental Health Project (NMMHP).
“As of now it’s entirely online,” Taylor explained. “It began as a research fellowship at Assumption University, and as they kept going with it they were planning on trying to make a physical space, but then COVID-19 happened and they kind of shifted gears and they realized that it might even be beneficial to have an entirely virtual space rather than a physical one, so that’s their approach.”
Initially a research-focused organization, NMMHP switched to a nonprofit last year.
“The organization is focused on researching and creating exhibits about mental health in order to transform attitudes and understanding of mental illness and mental wellness,” Taylor said. “It began when they were researching how exhibits create spaces for kind of breaking down stigma, because museums inherently are a non-judgmental space. No one’s going to be looking over your shoulder as you’re engaging this content, so you’re able to go at your own pace. You’re able to learn, explore, observe, and you’re able to access language that helps you put words to ideas that you haven’t necessarily been exposed to before.
“Currently they’re developing their first virtual exhibition, which they want to release at the very beginning of 2021. That one is called ‘I Get It,’ and it’s kind of going along with that idea of either understanding yourself better or understanding the people around you better. The first part of it that we’re working on now is compiling an oral history. We’re going to get videos from individuals who are personally affected by mental illness, sharing some part of their story. It can be about someone who has helped them, it can be about how they’ve learned to overcome a specific challenge, what they did to address that — really anything they want to share. And we’d be featuring that on our website.”
Mental health exhibits can come in a variety of forms, including some that use art. One of the first, Taylor said, is an interactive exhibit from Finland called “Mental Health: Mind Matters,” which premiered in North America in 2018 at the University of Minnesota.
“These museums work in partnership with psychiatrists and mental health professionals so they can develop interactive exhibits that allow you to understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness,” Taylor said. “If you’ve seen those videos where it simulates what it’s like to hear auditory hallucinations, they have stuff like that, where it simulates elements of the psyche of people with mental illness so people can understand what the symptoms are like. It’s done out of hopes that they will have empathy formation — facilitate a connection, an understanding so that you kind of know what someone’s going through.”
Taylor’s interest in mental health began when she was at Hopkinton High School.
“I really loved AP psychology,” she said. “I took it with [Mike] Hamilton and it was my favorite class at Hopkinton High School. That’s what encouraged me to become a psych major at college, and it’s all fallen into place from there.”
In addition to majoring in psychology, Taylor is getting a minor in neuroscience. After she graduates she is considering entering a clinical psychology program or a speech language pathology program.
“I’m really interested in mental health and mental health advocacy,” she said. “I want to be a therapist when I’m older. So I thought it would be great to look at mental health from a side that I hadn’t considered before, because everything I’ve been doing in school so far has been lecture-based, science-focused, learning about that aspect of psychology and mental health. But then when I saw there was an art connection that I could explore and have that exposure as well, I thought that would be really cool, so I wanted to get involved.”
While her internship is set to end soon, she said she plans to stay connected with the organization for the foreseeable future.
“I feel like I’m involved in something that’s going to be so helpful, at least I think it will be helpful, because it’s going to make mental health resources accessible to a lot of people,” she said. “Having it be virtual, people around the country or even around the world can access this content and learn really valuable things. That’s why I am excited about the project.”