Did you know?
- One in five children today has a diagnosable mental health condition.
- One half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of fourteen.
- Nearly one in ten children have an anxiety disorder.
- 37% of students with a mental health condition ages fourteen and older drop out of school–the highest rate of any disability group.
Why is mental health important to the work we do in libraries? Mental health is an essential part of children’s overall health and a key indicator for lifelong success. It has a complex relationship with kids’ physical health and their ability to succeed in school, at work and in society. However, if a child is experiencing a mental illness, a person can’t tell just by looking.
If mental illness goes untreated, the implications are severe for the a child’s quality of life. Without the proper diagnosis and treatment, children who experience mental health issues are at an increased risk of poor grades, behavioral problems, quality of sleep, dropping out or failure in school, contact with the criminal justice system, drug and alcohol use, dependence on social services, and even suicide. All of us work towards achieving positive outcomes for the youth in our communities. The fact is that the well-being of a child is intrinsically tied to their mental health.
What can librarians do?
- Provide access to reliable and credible information for children with youth non-fiction titles about mental illness in library collections.
- Participate in mental health awareness and suicide prevention library staff training.
- Provide up-to-date non-fiction and parenting books for caregivers about mental health topics.
- Read, promote, and recommend books with characters who experience mental illness.
- Participate in a local advisory group or council for community members concerned about mental health in youth.
- Offer public programs for parents and caregivers about mental health related topics.
- Work with your local Social Services Department to perform wellness checks for youth visiting your libraries, as needed.
- Create a “Bowl of Affirmations” with positive phrases and mantras that kids can take with them when they visit the library.
- Provide a welcoming and kind space where all youth are valued, visible, and free to express themselves in their own unique way.
This May for Mental Health Awareness Month, Dakota County Library partnered with Dakota County’s Public Health Department in an awareness campaign about mental health. To support this program, we developed a book list entitled “Good Books for Tough Topics,” which was a two-sided bookmark of youth and teen fiction and non-fiction titles about various mental health topics, such as depression, anxiety, suicide, assault, trauma, self-harm, addiction, mental illness, violence, and bullying. The goal of this passive readers advisory tool was to connect youth and caregivers with books about mental health topics in non-stigmatizing way respecting patron privacy. These passive bookmarks were distributed county-wide at our nine Library locations and the county’s three service centers. In addition, four branches featured Mental Health Awareness Month resource tables in their spaces, providing additional information about services available through the Public Health Department.
Unfortunately, mental health stigma is real and continues to be a harmful barrier to the quality of life of young children. Luckily, the state of Minnesota is fortunate to have a local advocacy organization called Make It Okay, which is dedicated to stopping the silence and stigma against mental illness by sharing research, resources, and information. Their collection of personal stories is particularly profound.
One of the most important responsibilities we have as children’s librarians is to make every child feel welcome and visible in our libraries. Understanding mental illness and how it affects children who visit our libraries is just one way we can help provide more inclusive customer service to youth and families in our communities.