May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Two librarians from Pima County Public Library sat down to talk about how they approach mental health in their work with youth in our community. Matt L. and Heather S. both work at Woods Memorial Library—Matt as the Assistant Manager and Heather as the Tween Services Librarian. Don't miss the book lists curated by Hilary T, Oro Valley Public Library, at the end of this post!
Recently, you and I attended the annual Teen Town Hall organized by the Metropolitan Education Commission. I was particularly moved and inspired by the needs and solutions articulated by youth in our community. As librarians who get to focus on tween and teen services, what do you think we can do to answer their call for action around mental health in our community?
I was inspired by the Teen Town Hall as well. I think librarians should center their work with teens and tweens around their most pressing concerns. For the past several years, and especially during the pandemic, in surveys and face-to-face, teens have told us their experiences of isolation and distress. It’s up to us to listen and respond. We can be the caring adults that they talk to, as well as design activities with them in a way that supports their health. How would you design an environment where youth can succeed?
I would hope to create a place where youth can be themselves and express themselves creatively without judgement. There is a lot of stigma around talking about mental health challenges, as well as self-stigma. It’s important to be open to those conversations and it’s important to be able to start those conversations.
We are part of a team of library staff who are fortunate to be able to be open about mental health challenges. How do you think being open at work about this topic might help combat the stigma around mental health?
Talking about mental and emotional health in the same way we talk about physical health normalizes the experience. We know at work that it’s ok to take time to care for our own and our families’ mental health. There is no stigma when I acknowledge the reality that this has been a hard few years or that I may be struggling with anxiety or other health issues. I hope that an open environment at work will translate to an open environment when we work with the community, including with those with mental health challenges and the people who care about them.
Let’s talk about our summer plans for youth in the Woods Memorial library neighborhood. What is the Health Action Team, who is it for, and how will it help create a healthy community?
The Health Action Team is an exciting project that we are working on here at the library. Essentially, we want to help young people connect with one another and with people in the community who care about the same things they do. As librarians, we are all about connecting people to one another and to information and resources so that they can live their best lives. We don’t really know yet what the young people in our neighborhood will want to do, but we know that they have incredible, inspiring, and community-affirming ideas. We want to give them the tools and the time and the space to work on their visions to make the world a better place, starting with themselves and their neighbors.
Our Maker Space will have a 3-D printer, a Cricut vinyl cutter, a button maker, media kits with cameras, editing software for images and videos, and lots of cool art supplies. We will have some workshops that will serve as creativity parties, and lots of open lab or studio time so people can Make Cool Stuff, craft important messages, and share their work with the larger community.
We think having fun with our friends and having a safe space to chill out and make stuff will help us all to be healthier. This includes making connections and projects to help us when we’re not having so much fun. Life is really, really hard for young people these days, and we want to help them help themselves and their friends.
One of the great things about the Health Action Team is that it is youth-led. The young people come up with their project ideas and work individually or in groups to make them happen. They meet regularly to discuss projects and brainstorm solutions. We are there to help them make the connections in the community they need to be successful.
In the fall, youth interns from Amphi High School’s Film and TV program will be joining the team to help lead and mentor younger participants. I’m excited about the possibilities and curious about what the teens and tweens we work with will create.
To mark the month and get more involved, we like to refer folks to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are many ways to make our community more mentally healthy. Check out this link and visit your local library in person or online to learn more about the topic.
Both tweens and the people who take care of them can find books and resources on this list that may provide help and hope.
A deep breath, an attention to what is happening now, and movement are scientifically proven to help calm us. Here are some recommendations of picture books, and other resources that will help open that conversation with your little ones.
Little kids come with BIG feelings! What better way to discuss them than with a good book to guide you?