Monday, November 15, 2021

#NYLA2021: Mental Health in BIPOC Services

Libraries: We're all in logo
This year, the New York Library Association held its annual conference in both virtual (Oct. 28-29) and in-person (Nov. 3-6) formats, as well as having on-demand content. Below are notes from one of the virtual sessions.


Professional insights and understanding about some of the psychological and emotional factors that play against mental health awareness and interfere with the therapeutic process among African American women and Hispanic/Latinx populations will be discussed. Participants will learn skills to reduce shame, guilt and how to handle these challenges in productive ways.  Insights into preparing and offering virtual mental health programs and services; collection development; and outreach to and working with mental health organizations will also be addressed.


  • Maria Ruiz de Toro, Mental Health Counselor
  • Wendy Petties, Simmer, LLC
  • Patty Sussmann, Newburgh Free Library 
  • Chris Morgan, Newburgh Free Library 
  • Sarah Gluck, Queens Public Library (moderator)


BIPOC is an acronym which stands for Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color. It is pronounced "bi-pock."

Maria Ruiz de Toro - Mental Health Awareness with the Latinx Community

  • Who are the Latinx?
    • Very diverse in terms of languages, countries, and ethnic/cultural backgrounds 
  • There are numerous common misbeliefs around mental health and therapy. Similar to other communities. These are barriers to obtaining help.
  • Challenges to mental health awareness
    • Psychological
      • Defense mechanism
      • Identify issues - e.g., fears of transformation
      • Reappearance of early relationships - abandonment, trust, attachment style. etc.
    • Emotional: Fears, loneliness, anxiety
    • Cultural / social factors
      • Betrayal of family, cultural and religious identity
      • Source of shame
      • Fear of disclosing immigration status
      • Suicidal guilt
  • Solutions including having interventions

Wendy Petties - Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community

  • 1 in 5 Americans struggle with mental illness every year. However, more African Americans have mental health concerns.
  • What is mental health? Emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
  • Depression - Approx. 280 million people in the world have depression.
  • Signs of depression
    • Persistent aches, pains, headaches, cramps, digestive problems
    • Lost of interest
    • Problems concentrating
    • Problems sleeping
    • Thinking abut suicide
    • Eating too much or too little
  • Why don't we talk about mental health? Stigma - public or private.
  • Mental help in the black community. We tell ourselves:
    • I'm strong enough to handle it on my own
    • If I go to therapy, I don't have enough faith.
    • We don't suffer from mental illness
    • Keep it inside the family.
    • Our ancestors have been through much worse.
  • Stigma also grows out of a mistrust of mental and medical healthcare 
  • Barriers to mental health treatment
    • Stigma
    • Lack of access to care
    • Lack of insurance
    • Poor cultural understanding by therapists
  • What can we do?
    • Reach out. Check up on the person.
    • Don't make someone regret opening up to you. It takes courage to speak about depression.
  • Messaging:
    • You need to maintain a positive mental health
    • You and others deserve to life a full and healthy life, including your mental health
  • We need more Black mental health professionals

 Patty Sussmann - Mental Health in BIPOC Community

  • Problems
    • Racism and discrimination
    • Stigma against mental health
    • Limited access to health care
    • Providers don't reflect the communities they serve
  • What can libraries do to provide health equity?
    • Trusted source in the community
    • Provide resources and programs
    • Promote health literacy
    • Understand the health issues in your community
  • Check our resources from the National Institute of Health, CDC, and Webjunction, for example.
  • Who can you partner with in your community?
  • Keep in mind what is in your collection and what should be in your collection. Collection development is important and having diverse books are important.
    • Help people see themselves in the library's collection. 
    • The collection can help people have a window into themselves.
    • Get to know selection tools for diverse materials.
    • Conduct an equity, diversity and inclusion audit of your collection.
      • Teen library Toolbox
      • Diversity Analysis
      • Evaluating, Auditing, and Diversifying Your Collections
    • Understand the problems with every collection organization model (e.g. DDC)
    • Use book displays and readers advisory materials
    • Find ways to connect diverse members in your community with materials in your collection
    • Use books to help people examine their situations from a different point of view

Chris Morgan

  • Graphic novels and comic books can bed used for "graphic medicine" 
  • Create partnerships to help the library develop more ambitious mental health programming
  • The digital divide can cause community members to feel isolated.
    • Recognize the importance of in-person program
    • Consider placing programs online where people normally spend time
  • Provide tabling opportunities for community organizations 
  • Host relevant documentaries and follow them with panel discussions, which include mental health providers
  • Partner with LGBTQ+ centers
  • Have events that education library staff


How do we approach mental health stigma?

  • We have to make mental health a part of normal conversation.
  • Be in touch with hospitals, schools, etc., and make yourself available to help them  promote mental health services. 
  • Reach out to those who you are concerned about. 
  • We need mental health professionals who look like our community.
  • Promote the benefits of mental health services.

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