Making it OK: Art, Bravery and Mental Health

Artist Jess Hirsch plants Solomon’s Seal plants in one of three Prescription Gardens for the Making it OK: Art, Bravery and Mental Health art exhibition Monday outside the Mayo Civic Center.

Meditation gardens are popping up around town and calling attention to mental illness.

Perhaps you saw Jessica Hirsch, a Minneapolis-based sculptor, installing one of the small gardens, filled with bee balm, aster, and other native plants, outside the Civic Center Monday afternoon, or on the back patio of Cafe Steam.

Hirsch has created four Prescription Gardens around downtown Rochester, each of which contains several benches and a plaque with a number to call.

Dial it, and a voice will ask questions about how you feel, then guide you through a short meditation.

The large mound of soil on the third floor of the Rochester Art Center will allow participants to establish an emotional baseline, Hirsch said.

Then they can go to any of the plant-filled gardens outside. Those are located just outside the Civic Center entrance on Civic Center Drive, behind the Rochester Art Center, and on the back patio of the original Cafe Steam on Broadway.

“This is sort of a reach out to the community,” Hirsch said. “They can freely take part in art that we have.”

Hirsch and the other three artists displaying work at the art center — Rochester-based Bobby Marines and Minneapolis-based Christi Furnas and Melissa Borman — are adding onto “Mental Health: Mind Matters,” an interactive museum exhibit formerly hosted by the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Their art is part of “Making it OK: Art, Bravery and Mental Health,” hosted on the third floor of the art center.

The second floor will be entirely covered by “Mental Health: Mind Matters.”

The exhibit will be at the art center from May 25 through Sept. 10. It is hosted by Mayo Clinic and presented by Olmsted Medical Center and the Rochester Area Foundation.

The outdoor gardens each have a theme — one treats the “mind state” of greed, another aversion, and the third delusion, as referenced in Buddhist philosophy.

“Make sure to give yourself 20 minutes or so,” RAC artistic director Sheila Dickinson said. “Really go through the vegetation.”

The exhibit

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness at any given time.

That rate may be higher than average in Olmsted County, according to the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment, which stated that nearly a third of residents experienced some form of mental illness.

Bruce Sutor, a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic, hopes the exhibit will encourage people to seek treatment for their mental health.

“The more we can do to normalize it, to say that people with mental illnesses don’t have character defects, that these are medical illnesses that manifest itself as mood and behavior sorts of things — the more we can normalize it in people’s minds, the more people will be able to seek out care early and get the help they need,” he said. “But I do think that there still are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness that keep people from seeking help.”

The misconception that depression and other mental illnesses are character defects, instead of medical conditions, can keep people from seeking care, Sutor said.

In fact, people with mental illness may wait seven years to seek treatment — like therapy or medication – from when symptoms began to show.

“Mental Health: Mind Matters” was produced for the Science Museum of Minnesota in collaboration with Heureka, The Finnish Science Centre.

The exhibit has several features. Participants can test their knowledge about common mental illnesses, hear the perspectives of people with depression and mood disorders, take quizzes and play games that teach coping skills, and don masks and noise-distorting headphones to experience the challenges that some people with various illnesses have.

And although the museum exhibit will leave Rochester in September, the Prescription Gardens will stay in place for years.

Each of the outdoor gardens features wildflowers and herbs that will take several years to reach their full growth.

“We were really excited to think about this in a long-term way because prairie plants flourish after a couple of years and also, mental illness doesn’t just go away,” Hirsch said. “We’re building longevity into this exhibit and getting people to think about mental health.”

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