LIS Mental Health 2017

The top-grossing film this week was Split, about a person "with 24 personalities" who is also a serial killer. This despite some efforts to boycott the film due to the transphobic and offensive portrayal of someone with something like dissociative identity disorder, which is usually caused by severe trauma. In the real world, people with mental illness are much, much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

I say all this to highlight the reasons why we organized LIS Mental Health again this year, January 30-February 3. Cecily Walker initially proposed LIS Mental Health to recognize that library and archives workers experience mental illness, just like everyone else. Once again, folks are encouraged to blog, podcast, and otherwise share their stories and resources, and there will be a synchronous chat on Twitter, and you can see all the details here:

Of course, there are good reasons why people may be hesitant to share their personal stories. Dominant cultural narratives like Split are only a small slice of the bias facing folks with mental illness. So, my challenge this year for library and archives workers -- especially anyone in a middle management role -- is to bring a conversation about mental health/illness into your workplace, with an eye toward advocacy.

This can look like a lot of things! Almost certainly there is a mental health clinic on your campus or in your community. Invite a social worker, mental health counselor, or other clinician to come talk to your staff at a brownbag session. Mindfulness is so hot right now, or maybe you can ask them to talk about burnout. If that seems like a stretch, maybe you can just book a meeting room and invite your coworkers to come watch this ALA webinar about Mental Health First Aid. (Then maybe your organization could pony up and host a Mental Health First Aid training for staff, or pay for a couple people to go to one already scheduled in your area.) Or maybe your admin would be more inspired by asking your institution's Americans With Disabilities Act compliance officer to come talk generally about seeking accommodations, and just make sure they speak to accommodations for mental health issues. You could even ask for permission to send out an email each day during the week, introducing different resources in your campus. I did that at MPOW last year, and received thanks from at least one person each day.

Or, you could do what we did in my department last year: in a regular staff meeting, I introduced LIS Mental Health Week and posed a general question about how we do/don't support one another. One of the outcomes from that meeting was a recognition that our habitual practice of emailing everyone in the unit when we are out sick could be adjusted. Our norm had been to share some details ("ugh, that flu that is going around"), but someone experiencing mental illness may not want to share the reasons they're out. People still do share some things, but I have noticed more folks just saying they'll be out for the day.

I share this example to say that you don't have to be a supervisor to raise an issue like this and make a concrete -- if small -- change. So I encourage you to consider what you can do in your workplace to bring visibility and support. I'm also happy to help strategize -- hit me up if you're pondering what will work in your environment, or need a pep-talk to feel brave enough to be the one to bring it up.