A new exhibit at Burlington International Airport is taking aim at the stigma surrounding mental health.
The display, Deconstructing Stigma, is located on the second floor of the airport. Travelers passing by can read stories from Vermont and beyond who struggle with mental health challenges.
“On April 9th, 2016, my only sibling and dearest friend Ian Prout ended his life,” said Vermont advocate Ashley McAvey.
After seeing a mental health exhibit in Boston’s Logan Airport, McAvey contacted the Burlington International Airport to implement a similar display. Her call was met with overwhelming support.
“I think there’s no better place to have an installation than at the airport where we serve so many from so many different backgrounds,” said Gene Richards, BTV’s Director of Aviation.
He was joined by state leaders, advocates, and two-thirds of Vermont’s congressional delegation to talk about the need to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“There is no community in America, no family in America – I may say – that has not been impacted by mental illness,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint shared her experiences with anxiety and depression. She says creating a society where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health challenges can be life-saving.
“When we as public officials come and name what’s going on — the shame and the stigma — it makes it easier for people to get the support that we need,” said Balint.
Vermonter Jodi Girouard’s story is one of 24 included in the installation. At the ribbon cutting, she shared that she’s been hospitalized more than 40 times due to mental health.
“There are faces up and down the windows, there are people here saying, ‘look at me, I have a an illness, and I’m still here and doing okay,’” said Girourd.
The exhibit shows people that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the country. McAvey says in Vermont, one occurs every three days.
“My hope is that this exhibit, it not only removes stigma, it not only deconstructs stima but I want it to be revering mental health awareness,” said McAvey.
The display is also interactive. There are QR codes to various websites and crisis centers for visitors to access with their smart phones.