An unusual museum has opened in Covent Garden, London, documenting the experiences, hopes, and dreams of people suffering from mental ill-health.
Objects such as a tree branch, a pair of boots, and dozens of nail varnishes are among the items in the exhibit. Each one has significance to the 16 people, from different countries around the world, whose stories the exhibition seeks to highlight.
The Museum of Lost and Found Potential aims to reveal the “stark and powerful picture of potential that is lost across the world to people, families, communities, businesses, and society due to neglected mental health and suicide,” the organisers said.
The objects represent both sad and happy stories, of things that marked a change, memorialise a loss, or things that the story-teller says are important to them in times of distress.
For example for Cecilia Ashaley, a Ghanaian teacher, the wall of nail varnishes are there because when she is struggling with her mental health she goes for manicure or pedicure to help her feel better, she says. The nail polish colours have been chosen to reflect the west African sky.
Ashaley, who has bipolar disorder, told the Guardian: “It represents me in my most depressed mood, when I think of things like killing myself… I feel helpless and not worth it, so I go to the nail bar to improve my mood."
She added in a statement from the museum, shared with Global Citizen, that she felt better as a result of being able to share her experiences: “I am a person with lived experience of Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD) and enjoy sharing my experience living with BAD with others to help them understand the condition better."
Another item is a painted tree branch, representing the branch that saved the life of Jazz Thornton, one of the participants, who has tried to take her own life several times. "As someone who nearly lost her life to mental illness, being part of this museum means so much to me," she said in her statement.
Thornton had an extremely challengingly childhood but has since recovered after getting support. Now she is a mental health campaigner in her native New Zealand and is advising the government on mental health policy.
"Having now come through the other side, I love being able to tell my story in a way that provides hope and provokes change," she continued. "The museum is telling stories in a way that has never been done before and I know that it will have the kind of impact that creates conversation, and changes perceptions on mental health in a positive way."
Other poignant items belonged to Stuart and Annette Baker, from Australia, whose daughter Mary killed herself after a struggle with an eating disorder. They include riding boots and an annotated book that are reminders of Mary’s life. She loved to ride horses and write poetry. In the eight years since her death her parents have advocated for suicide prevention causes.
“We have included Mary's story in the museum as we believe it is imperative to show the human face and lost potential of the beautiful soul we grieve for," said Stuart and Annette in a statement. "We understand that this constant unrelenting pain will never pass, and every 40 seconds around the world another life will be lost and that person's family and loved ones will be left to pick up the pieces."
Other participants in the global exhibition come from Liberia, Scotland, India, Sierra Leone, Nepal, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina, Nigeria, Canada, and the US. The global nature of the exhibit highlights that poor mental health is something that affects people everywhere, and needs urgent action from all world leaders.
The concept was put together by Speak Your Mind, a campaign from 15 countries calling for more action from their governments on mental health.
Elisha London, the chief executive of United for Global Mental Health, which runs the Speak your Mind campaign, says that leaders around the world are “not valuing mental health enough to take action.”
She added: “Our families, communities, economies and world are losing so much to due to lack of mental health… The Museum of Lost and Found Potential shines a spotlight on the real, personal experiences and impact behind the mental health and suicide statistics.”
"It is a rallying cry to leaders and all of us to unite so that everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to," she said.
The museum is free and will be open to the public from Thursday Oct. 10, which marks World Mental Health Day, to Oct. 15. After its pop-up in London, the exhibition will travel around the world. You can find out more about the museum here.
If you're based in the UK and want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. You can find international resources here.