You might be wondering why a school librarian is writing an article on mental health. Sure, she knows how to research and has lots of books at her disposal, but wouldn’t an expert–perhaps a psychiatrist or even a school counselor– be better suited for this task? If the goal was to see brain health from an expert’s perspective, then yes. However, issues related to mental health do not limit themselves to doctors’ offices or therapists’ couches. They happen in our homes, our places of employment, and in our children’s classrooms on a daily basis. It is essential that all of us take a role in promoting mental wellness for ourselves and those with whom we regularly interact. Moms, dads, business owners, teachers, police officers, farmers, dentists, friends…everyone. What we say and do may be the difference between life and death. We are the ones on the emotional frontlines of the relationships who must learn to recognize warning signs and eventually seek help for ourselves or others.
The recent pandemic has created challenges for everyone. For educators, we have had to transition to an online format. Hardest for most of us is the lack of daily, face-to-face interaction with our students. Not only is it more difficult to teach subject matter remotely, but it is much harder to assess a student’s emotional state. Before March 17, I had hundreds of students coming through the library door each day, roughly sixty eating lunch there, and my regulars who appeared like clockwork during study hall. I had the opportunity to assess their emotional well-being and could ask them questions. They came to me with concerns, and I could refer them to the counselors if more help was necessary.
Since Mid-March, educators everywhere have had to become more creative in their approaches, and I applaud my peers for their efforts. We are all doing our best to stay connected. The first week of online learning, Helias staff and administration called to check on all families, and counselors gave us an easy way to get student referrals to them—something I have done several times. Forms are sent out weekly to touch base with families and assess their needs. When a teacher does not hear from a student, administration will follow up. I have made calls, sent emails and cards, held Zoom calls and dropped off gifts with students to stay connected; and I know I am not alone. We miss our students and worry about them every day.
The social distancing has been incredibly hard for many–students and adults. For those already suffering from depression and anxiety, the isolation can make it even more intense. Add to that economic uncertainty for some families, decreased access to counseling, missing major-life events like prom and graduation, having a family member ill or dying from Covid-19 and a person’s mental health can really take a hit. A recent opinion published in JAMA Psychiatry addressed concerns that the current environment of isolation could create a perfect mental health storm. This is concerning as suicide rates have been on the rise over the past ten years, and prior to the pandemic, it was already the second leading cause of death for those aged 10-34.
In addition to being a librarian, I am also a mother to a forever 24-year-old who died by suicide April 1, 2019. I cannot bring back Matt, but I can do my best to look for warning signs in my loved ones who are still here, in my students, and people in my community. Won’t you join me in doing the same.
Librarian, Helias Catholic High School
Board Member, suicide prevention speaker & advocate; Anne Marie Project