Since I am not an overly happy person myself, I feel a lot of empathy for those who suffer with ongoing depression. As a (retired) librarian, it is logical for me to think about and explore ways that libraries and librarians can support people diagnosed with depression and other mental illnesses.
It is disheartening to me to read and hear about libraries that kick people out because they are homeless, or loud, or “having a meltdown,” etc. I understand, but it is disheartening. These people are people too—and libraries are here to serve the people. In fact, such people probably need libraries more than anyone else. But I understand that people (library staff included) are uncomfortable with people who are “different” from them. So what are libraries to do?
I think the answer lies in education. An excellent article in the January 5, 2015 issue of Public Libraries, “Mental Health Training in Public Libraries” describes how one library director sought out training for himself and his staff members.
The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has also created a “Tip Sheet” about working with people with mental health issues. There are several points in this tip sheet that I really endorse and would recommend to any library:
- Treat people with mental health issues with the same respect and consideration as other patrons.
- Respect the privacy of a patron—have a discreet, but safe, place to talk if necessary.
- Help increase community awareness of mental illness with displays, programs, books, and other materials.
- Have sufficient signage to allow patrons to be independent.
- Select and recommend titles on health issues based on community needs and requests.
- Do not share your anecdotal stories to demonstrate that you understand; this may convey the wrong message. For example, do not mention “my aunt with the same thing.” Each situation is different; please respect that difference.
- Form partnerships with agencies, professionals, and self-advocates to assess and meet the needs of people with mental illness.
And here’s another idea that just popped into my head. Maybe you know someone who suffers from depression. Perhaps they could advise you about ways your library could be more supportive. Or maybe you “know” someone through the “blogosphere”—someone like Lily, who I’ve met recently through our blogs. Don’t be shy—reach out to those contacts for advice.