After several years of prolonged stress thanks to Covid, financial instability, mass shootings and political turmoil, mental health concerns are top of mind for us all. Now a new display at Pittsburgh International Airport is letting travelers know that it’s OK to not be OK.
Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the mental wellness-focused Staunton Farm Foundation, there are nine new 55-inch digital monitors located around the airport. The screens will display resources for people dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. One goal of the campaign is to inform the public about the new nationwide 988 crisis hotline.
On July 16, the Federal Communications Commission designated the number 988 as a suicide and crisis hotline. The idea was to create a single number for people to call or text during a mental health emergency, similar to 911. But people won’t call if they don’t know the hotline exists, says Joni Schwager, executive director of the Staunton Farm Foundation.
“I believe that 988 could be a huge game changer because we could be catching people before they get more involved in the system and their own illness,” says Schwager. “This is a new resource that people need to know about.”
In addition to the information about the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, the displays will point to mental/behavioral health and substance abuse organizations, including the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Drug & Alcohol Helpline, Mental Health First Aid, American Psychological Association and Be There Certificate.
The topics include resources specific to age, gender, sexual orientation and more, says Matt Neistein, communications manager for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
“We recognize that everyone has unique needs and understand the impact that representation can have for this campaign,” says Neistein.
The local faces sharing this information will be familiar — players from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Penguins including Bryan Rust and P.O. Joseph — are part of the project, plus hip-hop artist Jasiri X of 1Hood Media. The Airport Authority also hopes to incorporate videos from other notable Pittsburghers in the future.
There is also a “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”-themed screen located at Kidsport — the children’s play area in Concourse C. The display encourages children to communicate their feelings to adults and offers tips for parents and caregivers on how to best support young travelers.
Schwager and Neistein agree that the primary goal of the campaign is to destigmatize the conversation around seeking mental health services.
“Mental illness is mostly portrayed in the extreme forms at the end of the spectrum,” says Schwager. “This exhibit will normalize mental health. Seeing people you recognize talk about mental health will hopefully change people’s minds about mental illness.”
The exhibit opened on July 19. You can find the screens at both the landside and airside terminals in various locations including the baggage claim and ticketing areas.
The grant provides funding to continue the project through 2024, and Neistein says the airport hopes to extend it beyond that date. There also are first responders stationed at the airport 24/7 to assist anyone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.