The New Normal? Science Museum Explores the History of Mental Health

A new exhibit called “The Changing Face of What is Normal: Mental Health” opened recently at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A world-renowned science museum, the Exploratorium features a new gallery that focuses on human behavior. The mental health exhibit is designed to explore the ways society defines, perceives, and responds to those whose behavior is considered “abnormal.” Visitors are encouraged to consider that normality is a fluid concept with a range of definitions that change depending on contexts such as time and place.

The Exploratorium Web site describes three elements that make up the exhibit:

  • Artifacts from the suitcases and trunks of 14 patients who were confined at the Willard Psychiatric Center, a New York mental institution that was decommissioned in 1995. The personal items provide insight into the lives of residents before they were institutionalized.
  • A display tracing the evolution of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a guide used by psychiatric professionals to diagnose and treat cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders. This part of the exhibit also includes videotaped interviews with clinicians and clients speaking about their experiences and commenting on the difficulty of categorizing human behavior.
  • An interactive installation called “Restraint,” which explores the ways psychiatric patients have been restrained over time. Visitors can view, experience, and comment on various types of restraints, including the ways societies and cultures constrain everyday behavior and the ways we must often restrain our own impulses.

“The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health” will be on display at the Exploratorium until spring 2014. Have you seen it? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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