Flying away from stigma: Logan exhibit displays stories of mental illness
Jamie Lenis Shattuck couldn’t explain her feelings, so she kept them secret. Her childhood was full of love, free of misfortune. So why, starting when she was about 14, did she always feel so sad and hopeless?
“I told my parents almost everything,” Lenis Shattuck said. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was desperately sad. I felt it would somehow ruin their happiness.” When she left for college, the darkness prevailed. She visited a counseling center. The diagnosis: depression.
Fifteen years later, Lenis Shattuck is no longer hiding. Her portrait, more than 8 feet tall, stands among 34 photographs lining the 235-foot-long hallway between Terminals B and C at Logan Airport, part of an exhibit that debuted last week called “Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life.” Superimposed on each photograph is text describing the person’s struggle with mental illness.
The airport exhibitwas created by McLean Hospital and several mental health advocacy groups to put forth, in the most public of places, the stories of people with mental illness — to combat the shame and show pathways to hope.
Lenis Shattuck, now 43, is a married mother of two in Rockaway, N.J. She keeps her illness in check with therapy, medication, and self-awareness. “Now, I can stand up and say it wasn’t laziness,” she said.
Next to Lenis Shattuck’s photo in the Logan gallery — which does not have a closing date — is a picture of someone identified as “Howie.” Passersby might recognize his face — it’s comedian Howie Mandel, his text describing his experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mandel is one of several well-known people featured in the exhibit. Also portrayed: musicians Rick Springfield and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, author Luanne Rice, soap opera star Maurice Benard, and football player Brandon Marshall.
The participants range in age from 16 to 72, and tell stories of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other illnesses. The photos were taken by freelancer Patrick O’Connor, who spent 240 hours in photo sessions, kneeling up to his neck in pond water for one and dashing into New York traffic for another. The stories and photos can also be found on the exhibit’s website, deconstructingstigma.org.
Everyone, celebrity or not, is identified only by first name and age. None of the participants requested anonymity, but the hospital decided that, in a world where it is easy to Google and harass anyone anywhere, it was best to protect participants from that much exposure, said Adriana Bobinchock, a spokeswoman for McLean, a leading psychiatric hospital in Belmont.
Thomas P. Glynn, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said “Deconstructing Stigma” is an unusual exhibit for an airport. “It’s a different task for an airport to undertake a public education campaign,” he said. “We weren’t sure how the public would react.”
But during the week that the photos have been on display, the airport has received positive responses and many travelers are taking the time read the panels, Glynn said.
Among them was Kellie Ottoboni, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, who was studying the photos Friday. A recent survey of Berkeley grad students, she said, found high rates of depression. “It’s really important to just be able to talk about it openly and not feel like it’s a secret,” Ottoboni said.
Diane Gallagher of Boston, an American Airlines agent, also stopped to read the panels Friday. “I think it’s fabulous. I think it’s necessary. I think it needs to be out there,” she said. “I love that there are all different kinds of people up there.”
Sean Shinnock of Somerville thinks about what it might have meant to him, if he had wandered through an exhibit like “Deconstructing Stigma” when he was 14. “Maybe it would have changed my life,” he said.
Instead, Shinnock spent much of his life struggling alone with extreme anxiety and compulsions such as turning a light switch on and off for an hour to combat negative thoughts. He knew his feelings weren’t normal, but he was terrified of what he would learn if he sought help, and avoided getting a diagnosis until he was 32, when he was told he suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. By that time, his life was in ruins — he was out of work, immobilized, living with his father.
After treatment at McLean’s OCD Institute, a three-month residential treatment program, Shinnock, now 36, is working for a production company and pursuing a career as an artist. And his giant photo is on the wall at Logan, his story displayed for all to read.
“I hope that somebody who may be hurting gets a little solace, that they know they’re not alone,” he said.
Globe correspondent Olivia Quintana contributed to this report. Felice J. Freyer can be reached at email@example.com.