EPL initiatives tackle mental health awareness on local level


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. EPL recently hosted workshops discussing mental health in an effort to raise awareness.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

Throughout the past year, Evanston Public Library has taken strides to raise mental health awareness in the Evanston community, emphasizing health literacy and library resources on a local level.

EPL has ramped up its mental health services in its main branch within recent months. The library hired a full-time social worker last year, started workshops related to mental illness in November and will hold its inaugural health and wellness fair in April.

Community engagement librarian Jill Skwerski said the library focused on mental health particularly during the last year. She said the library serves a special role in the Evanston community in bringing people together to discuss mental illness.

“We’re committed to meeting the diverse expectations and needs of Evanston residents around access to information,” Skwerski said. “We are the access point to health literacy. … We want to be sure that we are serving our community equitably with services and programs that they need.”

Public services librarian Susan McClelland said mental health emerged as a prominent issue in a recent health survey released by the Health and Human Services department in Evanston.

She added that libraries in particular have been addressing this issue within Evanston.

“Mental illness is seen as something that is unaddressable on a local level,” McClelland said. “One of the things that the library attempts to do is to make sure that people can readily access the information about where to go and who does what and where do I start.”

Skwerski said hiring social worker Justine Janis has made a “huge difference” in the library’s mental health efforts. EPL, the city and Presence Health — a nonprofit health care network in Illinois — funded the social worker position, Skwerski said.

In her role as a social worker at EPL, Janis said she provides referrals to other community health services, application assistance for benefit programs, mental health assessments and other consultation services. She said she knows of three other full-time social workers in Illinois public libraries.

“People experience stress and depression,” Janis said. “It’s important for people to recognize when to get help and to know that there’s help out there … in developing healthy ways of coping with these very normal stressors.”

Janis said the library has held several workshops to discuss mental health, including a session in November about serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and a trauma information session in January hosted by the Children’s Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County. She said EPL will also hold a workshop led by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance about accessing insurance coverage for mental illness on Feb. 21.

Skwerski said the library will hold its first health and wellness fair in April, hosting practitioners and service providers from across the North Shore. They will set up information booths and provide holistic health assistance, she said.

“The more we get it out there and talk about it and come together as a community, we discover that we’re not alone in our concerns about mental health,” Skwerski said.

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Twitter: @caity_henderson