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Supporting student mental health: A guide for academic librarians
College students are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis; the library can play a vital role in promoting campus wellness
The world is facing a mental health crisis. A recent study revealed that one of every two people globally will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime. Young adults are among those most at risk, and particularly college students. In the U.S., a report from the Chronicle of Higher Ed notes that among college students more than one-third reported having a mental health disorder, one-quarter have taken psychiatric medication, and one-third sought counseling. Campus administrators recognize student mental health is a crisis, with three-quarters of college presidents considering it a pressing issue.
Academic librarians and library staff are well positioned to play a leading role in supporting student mental health. Students visit the library more than any other building on campus except for the student center, plus librarians are deeply trusted on campus.
In a webinar sponsored by Clarivate, librarians Neil Grimes, Education and Curriculum Materials Librarian at William Paterson University, and Alejandro Marquez, Collection Development Librarian at Colorado’s Auraria Library, discussed programs that can support campus mental health. Among them are bibliotherapy, quiet study spaces, campus partnerships and exploring new approaches to librarianship like social work- and trauma-informed practices.
Librarians supporting student mental health
Neil Grimes sees mental health support and wellbeing intrinsically linked to the library mission of supporting student academic success. He also grounds his motivation in recent scholarship. Studies highlight the library’s role in student retention and degree completion, as well as recognizing student mental health needs and connecting students to resources.
One in three students have an unmet mental health need and are unable to access services. Through their daily interactions with students, librarians have the insights, skills and tools to connect students with mental health resources: Collection development – including bibliotherapy – online research guides and adapting physical spaces for library users.
Bibliotherapy -- providing information, support and guidance in the form of reading books and stories – is a recognized practice going back millennia, of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Prized for its accessibility and privacy, bibliotherapy is a natural for libraries, which can surface collections of ebooks and highlight titles in a LibGuide posted prominently on a library’s website. ProQuest has created a curated mental health ebook collection, making it simple for librarians to make a vetted, comprehensive collection available to their users.
Reclaiming space for student wellness
Ebooks eliminate location-based barriers to bibliotherapy, but the library building remains important. Post-pandemic, libraries are already reconsidering how students use physical space. Areas reclaimed from collections or computers can be transformed into small oases to support student wellness. The Auraria Library supports students, staff, and faculty at the University of Colorado Denver, the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver. It has added relaxation and quiet study areas, so students can decompress and focus. The library at William Paterson University provides spots for play-based activities which are shown to positively impact mental health. Students (and staff) can find de-stressing spaces in the library that incorporate play with Legos, puzzles and chess. Libraries struggling to find space may want to consider replacing some physical collections with digital collections, which free space, reduce storage costs and importantly, provide access to the collection anytime, anywhere. ProQuest, part of Clarivate, has a free service that helps libraries determine which collections to convert to digital and at the lowest cost.
Library staff need support too
Recognizing the mental health and wellness of library staff is equally important. Alejandro Marquez offers an important reminder – individuals stigmatize mental health so individuals can also de-stigmatize mental health. Normalizing discussions about stress and burnout among staff is a first step toward broader acceptance of mental health differences on campus. Starting with initiatives like arranging play-based activities for staff, such as a crafting, lowers stress and promotes wellness. The key is to offer ongoing supportive discussions and activities to break down the stigma.
Providing mental health resources in the library falls under the “I did not learn that in library school” category for many academic librarians accustomed to selecting scholarly resources and supporting researchers. Fortunately, advice and materials already exist for librarians. Just like offering library staff CPR training, Mental Health First Aid® training is available from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing®.
Several books, recommended by Neil Grimes, provide mental health-informed approaches to library services and are available via ProQuest Ebook Central:
- Whole Person Librarianship: A social work approach to library services (2019) by Sara Zettervall & Mary Nienow.
- A Trauma Informed Approach to Library Services (2020) by Rebecca Tolley.
- Student Wellness & Academic Libraries: Case Studies and Activities to Promoting Health and Success (2020) by Sara Holder & Amber Lannon.
Collaborations on campus and beyond
Library staff do not need to rely solely on self-education. Even if the library is the first unit on campus to incorporate mental health care and wellness into its services, cultivating campus and community partnerships will both ease the burden on library staff and result in more robust services.
Partnering with the campus health center and counseling services to cross-promote resources can increase awareness among students and staff. At colleges and universities with social work or counseling programs, libraries can offer space for practicum students to counsel other students.
Community outreach opens opportunities for new programming unavailable through campus units. Local art organizations, financial advisors, and fitness centers can lead sessions for students and staff to de-stress or learn skills that support wellness.
Empowering future mental healthcare professionals
The need for mental health services is enormous but the number of practitioners is limited. Enrollment in social work and psychology programs has increased to, hopefully, close the gap in the future.
Current graduate students need traditional library services from basic information literacy to in-depth research consultations. But current trends in teaching and learning – growing interest in online programs and courses, increased use of multimedia and focus on interdisciplinary studies – point to a need for libraries to expand their collections. ProQuest One Psychology is a new destination resource that combines a variety of media – including video – and resources, along with aids that guide students on the research path.
The library as an instrument of positive change
Librarians are equipped with the skills to build collections that support future mental health professionals and researchers, as well as selecting titles for bibliotherapy and resources for mental health and wellness. Bolstered by the belief that the library, campus and community can be better along with an action plan to get there, positive change that starts at the library is possible.
ProQuest, part of Clarivate, has an extraordinary array of resources to help your library support campus mental health. Contact us to learn more.
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