Libraries Promote Mental Health and Wellness

Librarians are exploring new ways to help patrons manage their well-being during the pandemic and beyond.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to remind people to check in with themselves and their loved ones. While mental health awareness has been increasing, the pandemic initially made it more challenging to access resources like therapy, addiction treatment, and mental health programming.

Since libraries temporarily halted many in-person programs, providers began to find new methods of connecting with people in need of mental health support. The rise of virtual and telehealth services has been instrumental in helping people get through these challenging times.

Resources and support provided by your public library can complement the mental health services you receive from a doctor or therapist.

Libraries have always been beacons for people going through rough patches, and this has never been as critical as during the pandemic. Whether offering mobile services, virtual programming, or in-person support, libraries always find ways to help connect their patrons with the resources they need most.

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Libraries Offer Free Subscriptions to Mental Health Apps

You may already be familiar with apps designed to support mental health. These apps guide you through stress reduction techniques, but many require a paid subscription to access premium content. If you are unemployed, on disability or Social Security, or living paycheck to paycheck, you may not have room in your budget for another expense. Your library may have a solution!

The St. Louis County Library offers its patrons free access to the unlimited Headspace app for meditation and mindfulness. The app provides guided breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxing sleep stories to help you drift to sleep peacefully. The library also offers online mental wellness programs in partnership with Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri. Topics include Investing in Your Wellness, Resilience and Managing Stress, and Fear in Challenging Times.

Libraries Launch Mental Health Podcasts

The pandemic sparked an increasing need for virtual mental health resources. Isolation, loneliness, and the temporary shutdown of in-person programs and services were hard on our mental health. Podcasts opened a new avenue for libraries to share information with patrons.

Virginia’s Norfolk Public Library launched the Living Freely mental health podcast hosted by Licensed Professional Counselor Rachel Ann Dine-in response to the pandemic. Episodes are available from October 2020 through December 2021 and cover topics like COVID anxiety, depression, medication, therapy, and unhealthy relationship dynamics.

Mental Health Program Series Emerge at Libraries

While some libraries are reinstating in-person programming, many offer a hybrid of virtual and on-site mental health programs to help their patrons navigate challenging emotions.

Michigan’s Clinton-Macomb Public Library kicked off the 1–2–3 Mental Health Initiative, a series of programs featuring different mental health topics. The name 1–2–3 stands for one issue, two communities, and three age-appropriate books for each case. Programs include talks by mental health professionals either in-person or via Zoom and book discussions covering topics like mental health in families and healthy communication strategies.

The New York Public Library created the Spaces to Thrive program in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. This initiative delivers free mental health programming, mental health first aid training, featured books, and information about local mental health resources.

Libraries Support Teen Mental Health

Mental health struggles aren’t limited to adults — teens are also vulnerable to pandemic-related stress, anxiety, and depression.

The Portland Public Teen Library and Lewiston Public Teen Library worked with local community partners to develop their Read Your Mind: Teen Mental Health series. This Zoom series features a different mental health topic each month. Talks are given by YA authors and community partners with expertise in the monthly subject, with time for a Q&A session afterward.

Librarians Compile Mental Health Resource Lists

Even if your local library isn’t yet open for in-person programming, they may still provide support in the form of mental health resource lists.

The NJ State Library compiled a list of state and national organizations that assist with mental health concerns. They also include free mental health apps and organizations specializing in youth mental health.

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Social Workers in the Library Support Mental Health

A library is where people with mental health issues or homelessness can go without fear of stigma, making it ideal for social workers to connect with people in need. Libraries serve as safe spaces with heating and air conditioning, free internet and materials, programs, and food. While librarians do their best to assist anyone who walks through their doors, there are limits to what they can do with their training and resources.

Social workers can help de-escalate situations with patrons struggling with mental health conditions and connect them with mental health services and housing if needed. While librarians cannot always dedicate the time necessary to help someone in this way, social workers can train them on how to best support patrons who need mental health assistance.

Indianapolis Public Library hired a full-time social worker in the fall of 2021 who has helped patrons find housing, obtain prescription medications, and access federal stimulus money.

The Evanston Public Library in Illinois also has a full-time social worker on staff who helps patrons apply for government assistance, obtain food and housing, and enroll in mental health and addiction treatment programs.

Some libraries don’t have the budget to employ a social worker, but that doesn’t stop them from finding a way to support their community’s mental health needs. Partnerships with universities provide the services of social work interns in the library at no additional cost.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore partnered with SWCOS- University of Maryland School of Social Work and Morgan State University School of Social Work Field Education Program. This program allows for drop-in appointments with social workers to help with mental health and substance abuse, housing, food, kindergarten enrollment, and other community resources.

Reach Out to Your Local Library for Mental Health Support

The pandemic has been tough on us all. If you are struggling with mental health, you don’t have to go through it alone. Libraries are opening for in-person services, so you can always feel free to visit your local library. Even if your library does not provide social workers, they can help connect you with mental health programming and materials and your community’s social services.

And remember, isolation can often make the situation worse. If you live alone or spend much of your time at home due to job loss, illness, or any other reason, taking a regular trip to the library can help get you out of the house and around other people, which can do wonders for your mental well-being.