Explore & More-The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum is a world-class children’s museum that celebrates the power of child-led play. With four floors of fun to explore, the 43,000 sq. ft. museum sits at the crossroads between replica canals and bridges that have become year-round community destinations. The museum reflects that sense of place with thoughtfully crafted exhibits that help children develop a deeper sense of our world, our community and their place in it in a fun and engaging way for children and adults alike.

We recently spoke with Michelle Urbanczyk, chief executive officer, about the importance of children sharing their feelings and providing resources to parents and caregivers.

Q: Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma Coalition?

Explore & More-The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum became a part of the Coalition because we believe that our children deserve a strong foundation and mental health is a part of that foundation. We are a community-based museum where we welcome all children and their caregivers to a non-judgmental place where they are free to learn and play. Since the pandemic, we have seen first-hand and have listened to our parents discuss their concerns, stresses and restlessness caused by Covid-19.

Families have said that they are experiencing an increased level of stress, anxiety, conflict, depression, and hopelessness since the pandemic. Being aware that our families and children can openly talk about their feelings is a wonderful first step, the next is understanding the network of community resources that families can turn to. Therefore, we are a part of this Coalition.

We will continue to be a place that was specifically designed for and built for children. A place where children feel safe, free to explore and express themselves through play.

Q: How are people with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?

We all need to be able to express our feelings, this especially relates to children. Ending the stigma is critical for our children to grow up healthy and strong, being able to openly share how they are feeling and seek help when needed without fear of being shamed. For too long, we have not talked about Mental Health out of fear that we will appear weak, that we will be judged or simply trying to ignore it by thinking that everything is fine.

For our parents and caregivers, it is increasingly hard as many are coping with their own mental health struggles while raising children. We have learned that many of our parents/caregivers have simply been at a loss of how to recognize a mental health issue their child is experiencing and how to start the discussion. In many situations, parents/caregivers thought that their child would grow out of it. Ignoring, denial and fear is never the answer. Parents and caregivers need to understand that it starts with them. Being unafraid to seek resources, find the words and be a supportive adult is what children need to gain coping skills to navigate their mental health journey.

Q: What impact is the Campaign having in the community?

The impact is simple, yet life changing-just talk about it! Let others know your story, educate, and discuss and there will be less isolation. For our children, simply talk openly that mental health is just as important as physical health. Just like physical health and getting your checkups throughout your life, you will need to have your mental health checkups too.

We are proud to be a part of an amazing network. Since we started partnering with the Coalition, we have had age-appropriate curriculum through Storytime, hands-on activities and educational programs that focus on mental health issues that our children experience.

Through this collaborative effort, we can change the path and make it acceptable and, in some ways, expected to openly talk about our mental health.