Gail Rosenblum
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A man sits alone in his living room, immersed in an inner dialogue about his depression. In a dark forest, foreboding creatures approach, only their eyes visible. Nearby, noise-distorting headphones play an upsetting cacophony of sounds.

These are all displays in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s new exhibit, “Mental Health: Mind Matters,” opening Friday in St. Paul. It’s bold, respectful and timely. Through a few dozen multimedia and interactive activities, “Mind Matters” offers a sensory tour into the lives of people living with mental illness, with educational and empathy-building exercises for loved ones, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

In other words, this show is for pretty much everybody.

“I don’t think you’ll find someone who hasn’t been touched by mental illness,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota (namihelps.org), whose organization was consulted for the project. She noted that 20 percent of the population is affected by mental illness in some way.

Despite its prevalence, we remain reluctant to talk about the subject, often because we simply don’t know how. “Mind Matters,” running through Jan. 6, 2019, seeks to get that conversation started.

Presented by mental health services provider PrairieCare (prairie-care.com), the exhibit includes information on symptoms and treatments of common mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and bipolar disorder.

The need to talk is urgent. Fully half of people with mental illness begin experiencing symptoms before age 14, Abderholden said; 75 percent of young adults have symptoms by age 24. “This is definitely a young person’s challenge,” she said.

“I think our teachers are more aware than ever and want to do something.”

That’s heartening, because another strong message runs through the show: Mental illnesses are treatable.

One display demonstrates how artistic endeavors such as painting, dancing and writing can strengthen mental health. A “Worry Shredder” allows visitors to manage their fears in a unique way.

All ages are encouraged to attend, although children under age 8 will benefit from adult guidance at a few points.

“The whole message is that mental health is part of our overall health,” said the museum’s project leader, Cari Dwyer.

Minnesota is the first American stop for “Mind Matters,” which was created in Finland in 2013, then was moved to France. Some aspects were changed or tweaked during the translation from Finnish, Abderholden noted, including excising words such as “crazy.”

Abderholden would rather emphasize the bravery of those living with a mental illness. “People don’t realize how hard it is, what courage it takes. I’m really hoping that the exhibit promotes empathy and understanding.”

Dwyer agreed. “When I tell people what I’m working on, they say, ‘What? Tell me more.’ I’ve been really struck that everyone wants to share why it’s important to them. Finally.”

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350 • Twitter: @grosenblum