By Gregg Fishman.
Libraries are designed to be calm, inviting places. So it wasn’t really a surprise when the Butte County library staff noticed that some of their “regulars” were using library branches for respite centers, safe places where they could escape the heat of summer or the cold of winter. And for some of them, suffering with mental illness, the Butte County libraries became places to try to escape their internal struggles for a little while.
Like most people in their profession, the Butte County library staff pride themselves on helping people. But they realized they were not equipped to help patrons who were suffering from mental illness or emotional distress. After a couple of outbursts from these patrons, the staff knew they had to do more. Some people might have just asked for extra security, but these are libraries and the staff knew it revolved around information.
They contacted the County Department of Behavioral Health with some basic questions. How could they respond better to people who were acting out? How could they prevent a situation from escalating? And how could they improve safety for themselves and all of their patrons? But they soon realized there was more to this issue and out of that initial request, a partnership blossomed.
“We were able to expand from focusing on a few people with some strange behaviors to the whole community needing more information about mental health,” said Sarah Vantrease, the Assistant Director of Libraries in Butte County. “And we can make a difference by reducing stigma around mental health through the library.” Their collaborative effort, now called “Your Mind Matters” earned a 2016 CSAC Challenge Award.
The Butte County Library and Behavioral Health Department realized that they were often dealing with the same population, but from different directions. With a little cross-pollination, the library staff would have the resources they needed to deal more effectively with their clients and Behavioral Health would have another avenue to reach out to people who needed their services. Together, they could reduce the stigma of mental illness in the whole community.
With grant money from the California State Library through the Library Services and Technology Act, and with help from Each Mind Matters, part of California’s Mental Health Services Act, they put together a training program for the library staff. The library now carries more books and resources focused on mental health, denoted by special green tags so they are easier to find. The library sets up shop at the county mental health clinics on a regular basis to sign people up for library cards and make sure they know about other resources at the library. They began holding discussion groups, bringing in people with mental illness, their family members and mental health providers to talk about the impact to people and the community.
The program is making a difference. The library staff now has the training, resources, and referrals to offer more help to clients who need it. The Behavioral Health Department has a more comprehensive outreach program and can offer help to clients they might not otherwise have contacted.
“Your Mind Matters” has also helped break down some of the stigma associated with mental illness, making it easier for people to get treatment for themselves or their loved ones. When we talked to people from both the Library and Behavioral Health, they said more or less the same thing: “They won’t always come to you. Sometimes, you have to go to them. It’s about meeting people’s needs where they have them.”
The Butte County “Your Mind Matters” Program was honored as part of the 2016 CSAC Challenge Awards, which recognize the most innovative best practices developed by California Counties.
Gregg Fishman serves as Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.