Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Librarians Learn Mental Health First Aid In San Diego

A view of the San Diego Public Library, Sept. 9, 2016.
KPBS Staff
A view of the San Diego Public Library, Sept. 9, 2016.

Librarians Learn Mental Health First Aid In San Diego
Librarians Learn Mental Health First Aid in San Diego GUESTS: Wendy Hopkins, bureau chief, California State Library Development Services Bureau Joseph Miesner, access services librarian, San Diego Public Library

I'm Tom fudge and you're listening to midday edition. Libraries are designed to be welcoming places. Librarians are taught to treat all patients with respect including those with mental illness. The California State Library wants to boost librarians training on mental health issues. Librarians from across the state met in San Diego late last month to learn mental health first aid. As part of a $1 million initiative to train librarians on the warning signs for mental illnesses and to encourage patrons to seek help. Producer Michael Lipkin spoke with Wendy Hopkins the Bureau chief for the state libraries development services Bureau and Joseph -- and KPBS Midday Edition -- Joseph Miesner who participated in training. Where did the idea for this training come from. The state library and Greg Lewises Lucas travels up and down the state talking with all library directors. He believes that been out in the field and hearing them and listening to what is going on in the trenches so to speak and it came back to him repeatedly that there is just such a huge need to address the needs of patrons with mental health. There are certainly welcome in the library as long as they are not disrupted but sometimes they can be intimidating to other patrons to the was obvious need to put librarians as the liaison contacted between the patrons and the other patrons and give them the tools to learn how to deal with it more effectively. How often do you have a patron one of the San Diego branches that is experiencing a mental health crisis and is displaying symptoms are warning signs. It's common on a daily basis in varying degrees since we're a public road with open access to everyone and mental illness is so prevented that we often have -- propellant that we often have people in various degrees of stress. It could be anywhere from somebody been catatonic to somebody speaking to themselves and lesser things like panic attacks as well. You are not supposed to be diagnosing a given medical treatment to patrons but what should a success -- successful interaction look like. You want to assessment like you would for first aid and CPR and help them get to the help they need and give them reassurance and listen to them empathetically. You mentioned the training was empathy-based. But does that mean. You have to connect people. Someone is experiencing some kind of mental distress and they have a hard time trusting others and they are worried about what is going on and don't know how to reach out for help it is important to be an empathetic listener so that you can make the first connection and be able to lead them to other services that may help them with their condition. What instructions did you receive about when to call library security or police. It is safety first. A panic attack may mirror the symptoms of a heart attack and there is no sense in taking any chances so in that circumstance he would call 911 and try to sort through it later. Were not a professional and are not diagnosing you just want to get them to help. In terms of police it is aggressive or threatening and some of your first response should be police or security. Is that what you are taught Rex It depends on the situation and how you will approach a. What status as person in. Sometimes yes and it can be an empathy thing where we are trying to get this person to the help they need as opposed to incarcerate them Just a week ago out -- El Cajon police shot a man that many said was suffering from a mental health emergency. Does this underscore the need for that type of training? I can't comment on that. That was a police action and I don't think it relates to this conversation. One way it could as if librarians are able to assess the situation. Potentially but I think you are emphasizing too much calling police. That is not a librarians go to response. Extraordinarily patient because of the very welcoming I think what is in relation to this training is we are trying to's train librarians to recognize the symptoms and offer immediate assistance as far as providing resources and dealing with people compassionately as opposed to some type of response. Some part of the country has mental health professionals and social workers on staff are there any plans for California to expand their services that were. Several libraries including San Francisco and San Jose already do have social services to provide services to patrons with mental health issues at the families of friends and loved ones of those patrons and the address issues at the same time. This grant that we put forward is going to provide as a pilot six libraries to connect with local health agencies and we will be funding a part-time contracted either social services worker or healthcare worker in the library and ultimately we hope that this will be so successful that we can spread that other libraries throughout the state. You heard Michael Lipkin's speaking with Wendy Hopkins Bureau chief for the California state libraries development services Bureau and Joseph Miesner and access services librarian for the San Diego Public Library.

Librarians from across the state met in San Diego late last month to learn how to spot warning signs of mental illness. The training, part of a $1 million mental health initiative from the California State Library, certified about 30 librarians as trainers, who will conduct training sessions of their own for local librarians.

"Libraries attract a fair share of homeless and mentally ill," said Wendy Hopkins, bureau chief for the California State Library's Development Services Bureau. "We’re here to serve communities and many people come looking for answers to their problems."


Joseph Miesner is an access services librarian in San Diego and was the city's representative at the training. He said librarians were taught to assess the risk of self-harm, listen without judgment, and encourage patrons to seek help. That help could either be with a mental health professional or with some of the books in the library itself.

"You’re not diagnosing, curing or treating, but you’re recognizing possible issues," he said. "We can try to reassure people and give them information and steer them towards treatment."

Hopkins and Miesner join KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on the prevalence of library patrons with a mental illness and how librarians are trained to de-escalate situations.