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2023 FLASHBACK: Librarians as Second Responders: Mental Health Resources
Posted On January 2, 2024
This NewsBreak originally ran on May 2, 2023.


Libraries support their communities in numerous ways, but increasingly, librarians are finding themselves in a position to provide mental health information and emotional support during crisis situations. In observance of National Mental Health Awareness Month, the following mental health-related information and resources were gathered with librarians in mind.

Evaluating Health Science Information

The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus provides health-related educational resources that may help librarians better understand health science information, including the Understanding Medical Words Tutorial. Additionally, MedlinePlus created an extensive online tutorial to help health educators and librarians evaluate medical resources at


The National Council for Mental Wellbeing offers a skills-based course called Mental Health First Aid. The course trains participants to identify and respond to a range of mental health disorders. It covers mental health action plans for people experiencing panic attacks, displaying tendencies toward self-harm, and exhibiting signs of acute psychosis, chemical overdoses, and reactions to trauma. Participants are taught listening techniques and ways to effectively give information and reassurance. Additionally, classes are tailored to help specific populations—including adults, teens, workplace colleagues, veterans, rural community members, and older adults.

Specific to libraries, the National Library of Medicine has a continuing education webinar called Caring for the Mind: Providing Mental Health Information at Your Library.

Mental health trainer Ryan Dowd offers online crisis training courses, including:

  • Fights: How to Prevent and Stop Fights (Safely!)
  • Backup: How to Backup a Coworker During a Crisis
  • Kicked Out: How to Safely Ask Someone to Leave (Without Calling the Police)
  • Police: How to Reduce Police Calls and Keep Everyone Safe in Your Organization
  • Sexual Harassment: How to Respond to a Customer’s Inappropriate Comments
  • Prejudice: How to Respond to Prejudicial Comments From Customers

Mental Health First Aid: Disasters and Traumatic Community Events

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) offers advice on coping with disasters and traumatic events at, with further information sheets such as Coping With Grief After Community Violence and Disaster Response Template Toolkit.

Mental Health First Aid: Substance Abuse and Overdoses

In 2018, the pharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions began offering two doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, to all public libraries in the U.S. Additionally, since 2018, many libraries have teamed up with health agencies to stock Narcan and train staffers to administer the drug. In 2022, the Chicago Public Library partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health to make Narcan available at all of its branch libraries.

Supporting Teens

ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) supports librarians working with teens and cites the National Alliance on Mental Illness statistic that 20% of teens are predisposed to serious mental health issues. YALSA posted a list of organizations that tend specifically to teen mental well-being, which includes:

In 2022, the Seattle Public Library was awarded a grant for its Creating Space for Teen Mental Health project. By partnering with other organizations, the project aims to “support teen mental health by expanding public libraries’ capacity to co-design virtual and physical spaces with teenagers (instead of for them) that reinforce positive teen mental health.”

Supporting Seniors

The Library of Congress assembled a comprehensive list of resources to support senior citizens at It includes the following information on mental health:

  • The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry’s guide to senior mental health and dementia-related resources
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s substance use in older adults guide
  • The American Psychological Association’s depression and suicide in older adults guide
  •’s elderly suicide prevention and survivor’s support guide

Supporting People Experiencing Homelessness

Some people experiencing homelessness also experience mental health issues, and, frequently, these people seek refuge in libraries. Librarians can benefit from tools that help them understand these users’ needs and potential mental health issues.

In addition to his crisis training, Ryan Dowd offers online courses on his Homeless Training website that he designed for librarians, police departments, nonprofits, and others working with people experiencing homelessness. Participants learn de-escalation techniques and “how to effectively—and compassionately—work with individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Additionally, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published Guidelines for Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness, along with related resources.

Supporting Caregivers and ‘Second Responder’ Librarians

Mental Health America (MHA) provides information and resources to support the well-being of caregivers. MHA’s website offers advice on coping with caregiving stress and proactive plans for crisis response at, as well as a library of webinars and podcasts covering mental health issues.

In response to the acute levels of stress related to the pandemic, IFLA’s Continuing Professional Development and Workforce Learning Section and New Professionals Special Interest Group sponsored Wellness for Librarians: Resources and Examples, a webinar for “exhausted library workers serving exhausted library patrons,” with additional information on resources to address professional burnout, teach coping mechanisms for anxiety, and share preventive wellness information.

SAMHSA provides its Self-Care for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders webinar to help responders manage stress and continue supporting others. Additionally, SAMHSA offers advice on coping with disasters and traumatic events at

Case Studies—Interesting Approaches

The Spaces to Thrive program brings free mental health resources and programming to the New York Public Library (NYPL). Since 2015, NYPL and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health have offered free mental health programing, information kits, and mental health reading materials at 13 NYPL branches and online through the #SpacesToThrive social media campaign. Resources include mediation events, virtual mindfulness exercises, and access to mobile mental health crisis teams.

In 2018, the Chicago Public Library partnered with Amita Health to embed licensed clinical social workers into select branch libraries “to improve the quality of life for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness and other complex needs.” This Social Worker in the Library (SWIL) Chicago program builds on previous community initiatives Amita Health launched and is helping librarians connect vulnerable patrons with critical services.

Association of Mental Health Librarians

The Association of Mental Health Librarians is a professional organization formed to support those providing mental health information. It hosts a Google Group forum for members and holds an annual conference.

Promoting Wellness

Increasingly, libraries are participating in wellness activities that promote positive mental health. Initiatives such as hosting yoga classes, providing guided meditation apps, promoting knitting resources, and hosting animal-assisted therapy study breaks present library visitors with a chance to relax and find enjoyment.

YALSA advocates library programming that supports mental health, specifically teen mental health. On the YALSA blog, the organization encourages libraries to brainstorm ideas for fun outreach programming and suggests ideas such as:

  • Trivia nights (can either be themed or general)
  • Open mic nights (give people a chance to let their creativity out)
  • Murder mysteries (who doesn’t love a good mystery!)
  • Video game tournaments (Magic: The Gathering anyone?)
  • Social groups (reduce social isolation)
  • Anything “after hours” (adds a sense of magic to any program in the library)
  • DIY projects (make your own succulent planters)

Additional Resources

NYPL’s Spaces to Thrive book list:

Ryan Dowd’s The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness:

LIS Interrupted: Intersections of Mental Illness and Library Work edited by Miranda Dube and Carrie Wade:

Free mental health apps from the New Jersey State Library:

Norfolk Public Library’s Living Freely wellness podcast:

A range of mental health and wellness resources provided by

Patti Gibbons is a Chicago-based librarian and freelance writer. Her email address is

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