The Public Library: A Good Home for Mental Health Literacy

This is one in a series of occasional perspective pieces the Evanston Public Library will be publishing on the ever evolving role of the library in our community.

The Public Library is an Appropriate Home for Mental Health Literacy

By Jill Skwerski, EPL Community Engagment Librarian

First and foremost, the public library is a community building where all are and should be welcome to explore. With that comes a broad spectrum of patrons, socioeconomic and age-wise … but also health-wise, both physical health and mental health. One in five Americans has a mental illness, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health. A well-trained library staff must be prepared not only with reactive skills for our patrons, but also to proactively address mental health needs.

Our community has diverse expectations of what access to resources means, and our mental health literacy program is one avenue that allows us to meet those expectations.

There often is a gap between the needs of the community and the services available. A key step for the Library was the addition of full-time, licensed clinical social worker Justine Janis. One of only about 16 social workers working in public libraries nationally, her arrival ensured we have the right expertise to execute a broader range of programming. We also have extended our access to expertise with a Northwestern University global health studies partnership and the hiring of Susan McClelland to act as our health and wellness librarian.

As EPL grows access to mental health services and programs, the library has begun to host a number of events that focus on mental health. In January, we hosted a Trauma 101 session presented by therapists from the Children’s Advocacy Network who shared their knowledge and expertise on the effects of childhood trauma. The program was a great introductory seminar about how trauma impacts children emotionally, physically and developmentally. On February 21, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the leading peer-led organization for people with lived experience of a mental health condition, is hosting a workshop on how to maximize your existing health insurance benefits to access mental healthcare.

One of the highlights of our annual efforts will come April 28 at the Library with the inaugural Mental Health & Wellness Fair. Attendees will be able to engage with more than 25 mental healthcare organizations and practitioners. It is a chance for our entire community to gain easy access to clinical, legal, financial and holistic assistance, as well as free mental health screenings. This event is part of our continuous collaboration with organizations such as Metropolitan Family Services, In-Home Counseling for Seniors and the Chicago Behavioral Hospital.

Mental health parity really started getting a foothold in public discussion 20 years ago. But we are only recently giving it the attention required to build a healthier community. The Evanston Public Library always will be an institution for our entire community, and we will continuously ensure the existence of programming needed to enhance and grow literacy of all kinds.

Jill Skwerski has been the Community Engagement Librarian of the Evanston Public Library since 2013 and has served in various roles at EPL for more than ten years. The Library was founded in 1873 and serves a highly diverse and evolving community. More than 1,600 people use its resources and services every day.

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