For over 65 years, May has been observed as Mental Health Month. Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. One in five people will suffer from a mental illness this year; half of them will not get treatment. Often this is due to a lack of information about where to get affordable treatment.
Libraries can help — not only by providing resources for treatment, but also by offering informative programs to help our communities educate themselves about this health concern. Reaching out to local experts is a great way to start. Here are a few ways my own library has commemorated Mental Health Month.
This year, my library partnered with a local doctor to offer a free presentation on depression, which affects more than 19 million Americans. The presentation covered the warning signs for depression, how it can affect a person’s physical health, and natural forms of treatment. One of the wonderful things about this program was the intergenerational appeal; people of all ages, from teenagers to senior citizens, benefited from it. This program was made possible through a library partnership with a local nonprofit foundation for wellness professionals. (This partnership has also enabled the library to offer programs on stress reduction and weight loss.)
Another partnership has emerged with our local Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center. Twice, we have had the VA present Operation S.A.V.E. (Signs of suicide, Asking about suicide, Validating feelings, Encouraging help and Expediting treatment). This free program takes a look at the terminology, myths and prevention tools of suicide. With an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide each day, this was a program that I felt strongly about. Sadly, the first time we offered it, no one showed up. Not a single soul. So the next time, I promoted it in ways I never had before. I sent fliers to local retirement communities, men’s social groups, and even the bowling alley, where several of the league teams are veterans. The extra publicity push worked. The next time we had the program, the representative from the VA said we had more people attend than she’d ever had at any library before.
We’ve also had several nonfiction authors speak at the library for Mental Health Month. Memoirs on depression, addiction, eating disorders, grief and other topics have proved popular when part of our Mental Health Month series. Many of these authors are self-published local authors that wouldn’t fit with our programs the rest of the year, but during this series they are an ideal fit, particularly since our goal is to provide our community with a variety of information and viewpoints on several mental health conditions. We strive to start a dialogue on these issues that are so often ignored or untreated.
The American Library Association has resources available for Mental Health Month, including a video recording of a course in Mental Health First Aid  for library staff. Covering everything from bipolar disorder to panic attacks to psychosis, this course offers an action plan that can be used in libraries for dealing with patrons or coworkers with mental health conditions who need our assistance.