In observation of mental health awareness month, Rocky River Public Library will welcome author Sakeenah Francis to tell her story of living with paranoid schizophrenia. Ms. Francis will speak on Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM.
The event comes at an opportune time, with mental health appearing often in the headlines. What ramifications, if any, will the change in laws have for those in need of mental health care? Suicide rates are on the rise, while access to mental health care is becoming more limited. The media is buzzing about the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and its glamorized portrayal of suicide.
Our library, like many across the United States, aims to provide informational, educational, recreational, and cultural resources to patrons in the community. To me, community education starts with creating pockets of awareness. Sometimes this means giving patrons an opportunity to learn a skill, like cooking or jewelry making. Sometimes this means preparing patrons to transition well into the next stage of life, such as retirement or college.
Other times, this can mean giving a voice to people at the margins of society, in hopes of humanizing cancer patients or lifting stigmas around mental health. When we give Sakeenah a space to share her story, we are providing patrons an opportunity to become aware of her struggles and empathize with the situation she has found herself in. Same goes for Joanna Connors, a Cleveland writer and survivor of rape and PTSD, who spoke to us in February about her memoir, I Will Find You.
Some have challenged the idea that education can help eliminate stigma. In last week’s Crain’s New York article, How to Eliminate the Stigma Around Mental Illness, researcher and psychology professor Patrick Corrigan said, “Education is grossly overrated for changing the stigma of mental illness, especially for adults. Stigma doesn’t really change much when you go out and tell people what to think.”
While Corrigan didn’t define what, in his opinion, education is or is not, he said that meeting a person with a mental illness is a more effective route to normalizing mental illness and reducing stigma. He encouraged those affected by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia to “come out everywhere.”
Corrigan seems to separate “formal” education and casual interactions, but I would argue that by providing authors a venue to tell their stories—placing books on our shelves or arranging a visit with an author—we are facilitating a hybrid of formal and casual that makes for deeply personal dialogue.
Library programs provide just enough structure to form a pocket where awareness can be created and empathy can be extended. I am proud of the library’s role in our community, and my role within the library, where planning programs that encourage community members to listen to one another is all in a day’s work.