PIT, Partners Promote Mental Health in Airport

$150K foundation grant funds digital displays sharing support, awareness

By LaVar Howell

Published July 18, 2022

Read Time: 3 mins


More than 15,000 people pass through Pittsburgh International Airport on an average day, a sizeable audience for a new initiative aimed at raising awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness.

To reach them, the airport is placing nine 55-inch monitors housed in seven-foot towers throughout the terminals. The screens will display educational digital video content about mental health along with available resources for people seeking more information or assistance—with a boost from local sports and entertainment icons including the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers as well as a beloved Mr. Rogers character, Daniel Tiger.

Funded with a $150,000 grant from Pittsburgh-based Staunton Farm Foundation (SFF), the four-year campaign aims to destigmatize the public discussion about mental health.

“We are excited about this initiative with Pittsburgh International Airport,” said Joni Schwager, executive director of the foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of people who live with mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported in its Mental Health in America: A 2022 Workplace Report that of nearly 53 million U.S. adults diagnosed with a mental illness, only 46 percent have accessed mental health services.

Though the Staunton Farm Foundation has reached over 12 million people since 2015, Schwager expressed sadness when talking about those suffering from mental illness. She pointed out that mental wellness and mental health is a continuum, but most of the attention goes only to people with serious diagnoses.

Schwager called the partnership with PIT a milestone achievement for SFF.

“Millions of people from our region and around the world will take the message of hope to their final destinations,” she said.

The campaign isn’t intended only for passengers, however. The SHRM report also found that 94 percent of HR professionals believe that by offering mental health resources, organizations can improve the overall health of employees.

“This project aligns perfectly with our core mission of serving the community,” said Christina Cassotis, CEO of Pittsburgh International Airport. “We understand the importance of mental well-being for our staff and passengers is paramount, and we’re proud to partner with Staunton Farm Foundation to raise awareness about this issue.”

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 39.8 percent of adults in Pennsylvania reported symptoms of anxiety or depression about a year after the pandemic began.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm of traumatic stressors that started with the pandemic,” said Maria Kaky, director of communications and marketing for the NAMI. “People are stressed out, and for employees to be their best work-selves, companies have to help them be their best selves.”

The campaign coincides with the launch of the nationwide suicide and crisis lifeline number “988” that went live on July 16.

Community favorites pitch in

Part of the campaign involves incorporating diverse and inclusive messages from the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers, 1Hood Media, as well as Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a preschool children’s series from Fred Rogers Productions that airs on PBS KIDS.

“The Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities are proud to support the airport’s efforts to raise awareness for mental health by providing content featuring Pirates manager Derek Shelton for their video boards,” said Jacque Skowvron, Executive Director, Pirates Charities and Community Engagement.

“Supporting mental health programming here in our community and reducing the stigma around mental health are key initiatives for our organization.”

One of the screens will be placed at Kidsport, the 2,100-square-foot interactive children’s play area in Concourse C and will feature content from the Emmy Award-winning series, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

The series is produced by Fred Rogers Productions for children 2-4 years old and focuses on social-emotional learning. The messages displayed will encourage children to communicate their feelings to adults and offer helpful suggestions for parents and caregivers on ways to support young children.

COVID-19 had an adverse impact on children’s mental health. Frontiers in Pediatrics published a study finding 1-year-old, first-born children were at a higher risk of experiencing delays in neurodevelopment and communication during the first year of the pandemic.

And children with intellectual and developmental disabilities commonly have comorbid mental health conditions.

“The social and emotional strategies of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are relatable for preschoolers because they are based on established child development principles, and we hope the messages will help young travelers and parents navigate the emotions and new experiences that come with travel,” said Paul Siefken, President and CEO, Fred Rogers Productions.

“Practicing empathy and learning to express your feelings are primary goals of the series, and they align beautifully with this important initiative.”

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