Collaborating to address community mental health education and support needs

Health and wellness looks different for everyone. For some, reading a lighthearted fiction book can provide an escape from real life, a getaway from the stresses of work and responsibilities. For others, reading an educational, self-help book can provide tools to change one’s life and redirect their way of thinking more positively or profoundly. Aside from books on the shelves, the Kent District Library (KDL) also offers virtual resources and tools focused on mental health, mindfulness and more. They’ve also started a pilot program, in partnership with Corewell Health (formerly Spectrum Health), to provide even more community support. The partnership kicked off during Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct. 1-7) and provided library goers with a variety of resources, available in physical collections as well as through online options. 

Hennie Vaandrager, programming manager, works with staff at KDL’s 20 branches, to encourage literacy, spark creativity and engage patrons. Oftentimes, engaging patrons inside the Library means partnering with other organizations outside of the Library network.

Although the special spotlight week has come and gone, Vaandrager says these resources are available year-round, and staff is always available to help find specialized mental health materials. 

“We also partnered with Spectrum Health [now Corewell Health] to provide three different series in three different branches during September and October — caregiver support, parenting adolescents and senior life transitions,” she says. “Each of these was a six-week series that was led by licensed social workers. These sessions offered information, resources, tips and the opportunity to connect with folks in similar life stages.”

Libraries can act as community centers, educators and connectors. KDL’s goal in their programming is to not only reflect the community’s needs, but fill in those gaps by offering solutions. The six-week series is an example of just that, says Vaandrager. 

“Through patron feedback, KDL knows that Kent County residents want more access to mental health resources,” she says. “Spectrum Health [now Corewell Health] seemed like a natural partner for us as we look to providing more of these resources. Although Mental Health Awareness week is in October, we hope to offer more of these sessions throughout the year.”

The partnership was initiated by Corewell Health, who sought out a collaboration with KDL. Together, the pair offers free sessions to those who may not traditionally have access to support groups. Corewell Health West Clinical Manager of Ambulatory Care Management, Brandon Holmes, provides clinical oversight and programming for the care management behavioral health team. “We have social workers located in primary care offices, specialty offices at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and within multiple schools throughout West Michigan,” Holmes says. 
With more people experiencing anxiety and depression over the past few years than in the past, the need for such services is growing. “At a time when mental health and a sense of community are concerns in our social landscape, the Library is poised to be a trusted place that can help to bridge the gap between patrons and community resources,” Vaandrager says.
Holmes says this is a way to reach as many community members as possible to provide mental health education and support. “The Library provides a safe, welcoming environment for everyone in our community so the partnership makes complete sense.”
According to Vaandrager, the response to the series was positive. “Folks were really pleased and thankful,” she says. “The social workers did an amazing job and our attendees appreciated receiving information that was uniquely suited to their situation. The groups ranged from about 5-12 people which was ideal for this type of interaction.”

 Looking ahead, KDL hopes to continue to offer these sessions and to fine-tune what is offered after gathering feedback from participants. Since this was a successful pilot program, KDL hopes to add this kind of programming to a few different branches across the Library network. 

“We hope this is the beginning of a positive long-term collaboration,” Holmes says. “We continue to work with the branches, social workers providing the service and members attending the groups to ensure we are addressing the needs of the community.”

KDL is in the process of planning the next mental health event series in the spring. In the meantime, the full listing of Library events can be found here.

Photos courtesy Kent District Library and Kent District Library's Facebook page

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.