In honor of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, here are two stories about mental health in the library.
Children Can Have Mental Health Needs
A young patron of about eleven or twelve sidled up to me quietly at the children’s desk and asked me in a soft voice for books about, “um, you know…depression.” Immediately my mind went to worrying for this young person. I’ve had depression from a very young age – younger than the girl in front of me. My heart leapt in a kind of panic, a panic of wanting to rescue this young person from all the hardship I’ve experienced with my own depression.
I had to take a moment to make myself be calm. I started asking her normal reference interview questions. Did she want fact books or stories? Was there anything she had read recently that she’d liked? We went walking up and down the stacks, looking for books, and the entire time we talked I was having another, second conversation, but only with myself. How could I best support this patron? This patron might have been asking for books on depression because she was depressed. She might also have been asking because she had a parent, a friend, a loved one who was depressed. She might just be interested in the subject. I had never met her before, so I didn’t want to pry and push her away. But I also worried that she needed help, like I had at her age, and this was her way of asking for it.
I sent her off with a handful of books, and when I saw her again a week or two later I took a deep breath of relief. She quietly slipped up to me again when no one else was around, gave me a small smile, and asked for more books on depression.
I started to get to know her, a little. We talked about how great Claire LeGrand’s Some Kind of Happiness is. I tracked down an ARC of All The Greys on Greene Street for her when she had read everything we had in the stacks. She started asking me for books about anxiety, and OCD, and I saw a young person looking for answers. I slipped a bookmark for a crisis line in her books. I tried to be a kind, supportive adult when she came in. Because of the pandemic, I haven’t seen her in more than a year. I wonder if I did enough.
Colleagues Who Need Our Love and Care
Last fall, a friend of mine and fellow children’s librarian died by suicide. She was vibrant and funny, a dedicated and passionate children’s librarian, and a loving mother. To many people who knew her, she was one of the last people you might expect to take her own life.
About a year before she died, she started opening up to me about her mental health. I write about my own mental health story fairly often on social media, and she had seen that and started to confide in me. But she only told me bits and pieces, and now I wonder if she had anyone she felt she could tell everything to, or if she kept it hidden from everyone.
I tried to find a good book for her children about what to do when your parent dies by suicide, because books are my love language, but there are no books that can replace your mother.
Supporting Patrons and Colleagues
I think many of us go into library work because we like helping. We want to help our patrons find good books, good films, good information. We put on programs of all kinds, plan classes and play spaces, and during a pandemic we’ve reinvented it all. But we may not know which patrons, which friends, which colleagues, are going through difficult times with their mental health, and we may not be able to help them in the ways we want. It’s why it’s so, so important to give all our patrons grace, and to give everyone kindness and stability, because it may be the only thing we have to offer.
If you’re looking for books children on depression and other mental health topics, one place to start is two of ALSC’s suggested reading lists:
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness, please reach out for help. You are worth saving, and healing. There are many places to get help. One place to start is a crisis line, like Crisis Text Line, or (if your employer offers it) your Employee Assistance Program.
Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and was most recently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group