Commentary

Thoughts on Libraries and Mental Health

Libraries are more just than a repository for information. They are a centre of our communities and a safe, inclusive space for everyone.

By Craig Burley
Published January 31, 2017

Last Monday, January 25, Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly tweeted: "Don't forget, today is #BellLetsTalk day! #HamOnt #Ward7 #MentalHealthMatters"

I am grateful to Councillor Skelly for the invitation to #BellLetsTalk, as it provided the opportunity to talk about the importance of libraries for mental health.

Hamilton Public Library (HPL) plays a critical role for many people in the Hamilton community in strengthening mental health supports.

To start with, the library has many resources to assist those experiencing mental health issues or crises. Understanding is often a key first step, and the advantage of a library, especially with a librarian's help, is curation of resource material.

That resource material includes organizations, facilities and community programs to provide support, assistance and services for people struggling with mental health challenges.

Swindlers target vulnerable people for their scams, and so the field of mental health is plagued with unregulated fads and sham treatment programs. If you are suffering and try to rely on Google to try and find information, you will find yourself in the crosshairs of every SEO-enabled charlatan and fly-by-night operator.

So rather than follow the advice to just Google it, you'll be much better off going to a library, asking for help, and receiving a higher quality of knowledge.

But libraries are more than just a repository for information. They are a centre of our communities and a safe, inclusive space for everyone.

Because it's a place to interact, to be together, learn together and come together, a library integrates us into our community. Such explicitly social institutions reduce the isolation that produces so much ill-health of all sorts; and especially mental.

Libraries assist mental health in innumerable other ways, not least by being great repositories of culture, and so, of meaning and purpose. Libraries connect us to each other not just in our own communities but across the world. A library, a book, a movie or a record can be a source of meaning.

And we can engage with human culture so much more when we do it together. The incredible savings a library provides us is enormous. Millions and millions!

Libraries help overwhelmed parents, providing free, safe, fun places for kids to go and become engaged in the joy of learning. Heck, that alone "validate the existence" of this invaluable community resource.

Libraries provide opportunities for learning, keeping our older citizens active and plugged in. They encourage thought! And it's that stimulation of thinking that can help to ward off so many forms of mental ill-health, or help us to bear it.

In addition, HPL partners with St. Joseph's Healthcare for Psychology Month in February, bringing a variety of speakers at locations throughout every Hamilton community. This coming month's topics include: strategies for managing chronic pain; managing and coping with anxiety; dealing with aging and memory loss; managing emotions; and more.

Then let's think about what libraries explicitly do for the socially precarious, the poor and the ill and indeed the mentally ill. Libraries welcome them!

Lots of places are quick to kick homeless and vulnerable people out, but libraries proudly serve as informal drop-in centres and community hubs that accept everyone.

There are so few institutions in our society that lay out the welcome mat for the poor, stressed, or mentally ill. Libraries and librarians do. It matters!

So I thank Councillor Skelly and #BellLetsTalk for the invite to talk about mental health and what we can to be honest about it as a community. One great way is to support, with full hearts and enthusiasm, our local libraries. They inspire, heal, teach and welcome.

Craig Burley is a tax lawyer in Hamilton. You can follow him on twitter @craig_burley. Comments here are not legal advice.

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