New Deconstructing Stigma Exhibit at the Burlington International Airport

18 June 2021

The Vermont Department of Mental Health helped to welcome a new interactive art installation developed by McLean Hospital in Massachusetts to the Burlington International Airport (BTV). The exhibit, titled Deconstructing Stigma, is only the second in the country and features stories from individuals who have experienced mental health struggles in their lives, and in their  families. 

Ashley McAvey, a survivor and advocate who lost her brother, Ian, to suicide, was influential in bringing the project to Vermont. Her story, along with those of numerous others from Vermont and across the country, is featured on the project’s website.

“Millions of people walk through airports each year and traveling opens one's heart and mind to life-changing messaging and introspection. Having lost my beautiful brother, Ian, to suicide in 2016, I knew the vital importance of this messaging and of removing any and all stigma around all forms of mental health conditions – this project does just that through deeply hopeful and inspiring stories. I am so proud of BTV for putting the conversation of mental health in such a tremendously bright and dominant light and for pulling together such an incredible group of local community partners, Federal and State champions, survivors, and citizens to usher in a new horizon where mental health awareness and getting help when needed are promoted and fostered so that every single person gets the help they need and the healing they deserve” said McAvey.

Alongside McAvey, speakers at the opening event included Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Vermont Senate President Tempore Becca Balint, Vermont House Speaker Representative Jill Krowinski, UVM Medical Center President & COO Stephen M. Leffler M.D., Associate Director of AALV & Howard Center Board Trustee Thato Ratsebe, NAMI-VT Representative Lise Ewald, Director of Aviation at the Burlington International Airport Gene Richards, and the incoming Deputy Commissioner for the Vermont Department of Mental Health, Alison Krompf.

Krompf spoke about the importance of public displays like the Deconstructing Stigma project in helping to reduce barriers when discussing mental health, “Through this exhibit we are invited into a space where we can openly talk about the struggles of those enduring mental health challenges and suicidal thinking,” she said.

“I would like to encourage all of us to check in with our neighbors and those in our community. Often people may feel like ‘Who am I to ask..’ But I implore you, if you see someone who is struggling, ask. The worst that can happen is an awkward conversation. The best that can happen is you catch someone during a time where they really needed someone to show that they care.”

She added, “If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. You can text the letters “VT” to 741741 for free, 24/7 confidential crisis text support. You can also dial 2-1-1 to be connected to professional mental health resources across Vermont, or Peer Supports, if you are interested in talking with someone who may have shared similar experiences.”

The installation will remain on display on the second-floor skyway at the airport and all are invited to explore the stories shared.

For more information on available help please visit on the Services Tab on the  Vermont Department of Mental Health website.

Information and stories from the installation can be found on the Deconstructing Stigma website

Contact Information

Department of Mental Health
Commissioner Emily Hawes
280 State Drive, NOB 2 North
Waterbury, VT 05671-2010
Phone: (802) 241-0090
Fax: (802) 241-0100

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