Addressing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are some of our region’s most pressing needs. And while both urban and rural communities struggle with access to timely and affordable quality mental health services, issues in rural communities are exacerbated due to inadequate mental health resources. Evidence of the gravity of the situation is demonstrated by the elevated rates of suicide in rural communities. In 2019 in Texas, 14% of the state’s 3,891 suicides occurred in rural areas, though only accounting for 11% of Texas residents.
While safety-net clinics serve as a vital part of providing and ensuring access to health care for residents, they are not the only community hub for health – libraries play this critical role as well. Libraries are trusted and accessible community gathering places that bring together people from diverse backgrounds and offer access to resources for those who may be uniquely at risk for mental health conditions – particularly those who may experience the greatest barriers to care. Yet, limited funding availability, staff capacity, and expertise in mental wellness have made it challenging for libraries to offer much needed mental health resources.
In response to inadequate community mental health services, St. David’s Foundation is reimagining the delivery of mental health by building upon trusted community networks and piloting Libraries for Health, an initiative that enables non-clinical mental health supports and practices within libraries. Seven libraries in Central Texas have been selected to participate in the pilot, totaling nearly $1 million to support expanded access to behavioral health pathways.
“If we are to champion health equity within our region, we must recognize the many unseen barriers to accessing care. We must commit to breaking down those barriers in innovative ways that use the full range of community assets, including spaces, relationships, and information,” said Abena Asante, MHA, Senior Program Officer, St. David’s Foundation. “We also need to go out where our residents already gather in trusted, welcoming environments such as public libraries. We are excited to partner with public libraries to reimagine the delivery of mental health services in their facilities to help our residents thrive.”
This innovative approach employs trained and culturally competent lay people with support from mental health clinicians to help identify and address mental health concerns where there is limited access to clinical mental health care. Other components of the initiative include a learning cohort with other funded libraries and field-building activities to build momentum, disseminate early learnings and increase awareness of the initiative. Building upon successes in other states and counties, it leverages libraries’ strengths and its interest in trauma-informed care across the public library sector. Further, this model has the potential to address mental health conditions among adult patrons earlier, hopefully before symptoms are exacerbated.
Libraries for Health will be implemented and evaluated in partnership with the RAND Corporation, and anticipates that the initiative’s findings over a three-year period will help validate capacity-building approaches that demonstrably improve libraries’ abilities to proactively deliver and evaluate community-centered mental wellness programming.