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New exhibit seeks to unmask tough conversations around mental health

The Behind the Mask Exhibition will remain open to the public at the Emporium Center for the month of May.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and to honor it, a new exhibition is on display in the Emporium Center.

The galley is called Behind the Mask, and it seeks to unmask the tough conversations surrounding mental illness. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report that 1 in 5 teenagers are suffering from some form of mental illness. According to Mental Health America, 60% of those teens have not received any medical treatment.

That's why TN Voices is asking students to share what's behind their masks. The non-profit organization works directly with parents and children who face mental health battles.

Tammy Wilson is a Peer Support Specialist within the organization.

"We join parents in their journey when they're working with a child who has a mental health diagnosis," Wilson said. "We want to move from being aware that the problem exists to everyone being able to accept it."

Part of accepting it is being able to identify the feeling. TN Voices held a class for teens that allowed them to use artistic expression to explain the state of their mental health. Wilson helped run some of the classes. She explained it as a very eye-opening experience.

"I actually had the privilege of sitting in with some students as they colored these, and having those conversations with those students. And it just opened some doors and conversations," Wilson said.

Each canvas had two masks. Students had the opportunity to draw what they show the world on the outside versus what they felt on the inside.

Credit: WBIR

Beneath some of the masks students wrote of suicide, hopelessness, sadness, anger, and exhaustion. These feelings are masked by the phrases "I'm fine," and "I'm okay."

"For me, as a parent and as a peer support specialist myself. Yes, it's alarming. It's also an opening to having these conversations," Wilson said. "We're able to have that conversation with that child and we're able to provide resources for that parent."

The Behind the Mask exhibition will be available for viewing at the Emporium Center throughout the month of May.