The Daily Northwestern

EPL hosts mental health fair to connect residents, local care providers

Evanston+Public+Library%2C+1703+Orrington+Ave.+EPL+hosted+a+mental+health+fair+on+Saturday+for+residents+to+connect+with+local+mental+health+service+providers.
Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. EPL hosted a mental health fair on Saturday for residents to connect with local mental health service providers.

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. EPL hosted a mental health fair on Saturday for residents to connect with local mental health service providers.

(Daily file photo by Allie Goulding)

(Daily file photo by Allie Goulding)

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. EPL hosted a mental health fair on Saturday for residents to connect with local mental health service providers.

Cameron Cook, Reporter

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The Evanston Public Library hosted its first Mental Health and Wellness Fair on Saturday, providing a space for residents to meet with more than 25 clinical and holistic assistance providers.

Initial planning for the fair began last February, when Greg Simetz, community relations director at In-Home Counseling for Seniors, approached Justine Janis, the library’s social worker. They began to plan the resource fair together in hopes of facilitating a way for Evanston residents to connect with local mental health care providers.

“The two top (mental health) issues are awareness and access,” Simetz said. “A lot of people don’t know where to begin when they want to find help for mental health issues. There’s nothing better than a health fair to, in one fell swoop, introduce a lot of people to a lot of different providers.”

In addition to tables for residents to meet with providers, the fair offered self-assessment screening tools for attendees, based on research from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which is widely considered the definitive resource for clinical diagnoses of mental illness.

Janis said the assessment tools were meant to provide an opportunity for visitors to assess their needs and later schedule a follow-up consultation with a mental health professional.

Jill Skwerski, EPL’s community engagement librarian, helped organize the event and said the assessments allowed self-screening for depression, anxiety, PTSD, adverse childhood experiences and substance abuse.

“(The fair) is really a community event,” Skwerski said. “Without the collaboration of all the organizations it would not have happened.”

Simetz said helping community members learn about options for mental health treatments was not the fair’s only goal. He said he also wanted to provide an opportunity for mental health providers to speak with one another and exchange resources.

“There’s such a great amount of need,” Simetz said. “Not everyone can help everyone, so they need to know who they can refer their clients to.”

The library also displayed art created by community members with experiences with mental illness. Janis said she originally reached out to two Chicago-based organizations: Thresholds, which provides services and programming for people with mental illnesses, and Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare to source the art, but received additional offers once word got out.

“I got some community members calling like, ‘Oh, I actually struggled with X, Y and Z and I have an art piece that really showcases it,’” she said. “It’s been so great to see how talented these people are, and I just know it means a lot for people to be able to have a space to showcase their art.”

She added that the artwork will be available for purchase.

Simetz said EPL is on its way to becoming a center for mental health advocacy.

“This is just the first salvo of mental health events,” he said. “The library wants to do a series of events throughout the year, so we’ll have other education opportunities (and) other screening opportunities.”

People with mental illnesses are an often overlooked part of the community, Janis said, adding that she hoped the fair would help normalize discussion of mental wellness.

“Mental illness is a commonplace thing, and everyone is going to experience some level of mental health symptoms,” Janis said. “People who have mental health issues are people too. There is help out there and recovery is possible.”

Email: cameroncook2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @cam_e_cook

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