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"The Person is a Person": Promoting Mental Health Awareness in Your Library

June 14, 2016
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Promoting Mental Health Awareness in Your Library

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Find out how your library can be an ally.

Young man looks out over streetConversations about serving patrons with a mental illness can devolve into a larger condemnation of the population. When conducting a search for material for this post, most articles that mentioned mental illness included negative words; “problems,” “crisis,” and “issues” were the most common nouns. 

The good news is that many libraries are recognizing this knowledge gap and are working with community partners to correct the lack of awareness surrounding mental illness. Next month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) celebrates National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to generate ideas and awareness surrounding equitable access to care and cultural stigma. Libraries can serve as allies in this effort, by spreading awareness — among both patrons and staff — and by offering resources to help organizations like NAMI bridge these gaps.

Here are three programs your library can offer to help spread knowledge about mental health:

Increase internal awareness

Patrons from all walks of life frequent the library and are under no obligation to share personal information with staff. Therefore, it’s up to us to make sure we create a welcoming and accepting environment for all. 

There are now a variety of trainings you can bring to your library — either through a facilitator from a community organizations or a "train-the-trainer" workshop — to assist public service staff in serving patrons with mental illness. Being aware of how different populations face mental illness can help your staff to serve them in the most effective manner. 

In the article "Mental Health Training in Public Libraries," Library Director Josh Berk describes his experience bringing specialized training workshops into his library for staff. He noticed a difference in the way staff assisted patrons who exhibited signs of more severe mental illness. The introduction of People First Language was a game-changer for him and his staff: "The person is not the disorder. The person is a person."

At the State Library Resource Center in Maryland, we've offered a training entitled "Improving Services to Customers with Mental Health Issues" at various times annually, both online and in person. It's one of our most well-attended trainings, facilitating honest and informative discussion.

Host an art class or exhibit

Art therapy has long been heralded as a way to help cope with mental illness. How about a community art exhibit? Patrons can submit work, even anonymously, and witness some of the power behind public expression. Providing tools for a creative expression can offer an outlet for patrons who are coping with a variety of feelings. The American Art Therapy Association offers a succinct description of how creative outlets can be beneficial.

Read about it, talk about it

Bibliotherapy is more than just a buzzword. Reading a book and discussing it with other individuals can be a therapeutic experience. As Jami Jones says in her article "A Closer Look at Bibliotherapy," "Anytime a book is read by someone who needs its message to solve a problem or reflect on a challenge, bibliotherapy has occurred." 

July is a good time to introduce books to your readers that cover a variety of mental illnesses. If your current book club schedule is set, consider starting another specialized reading group. NAMI’s website has excellent reading recommendations, including a list of books specifically covering mental health in minority communities. 

Looking to become more well-versed in mental health? MedlinePlus offers resources to learn about different mental health topics.

What has your library done to increase awareness of mental health? Let us know in the comments!



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