Athletes need to keep their mental health in a top notch condition to make those big plays in the big games. However, we hear more and more stories about how stress and expectations crush the athletes’ health. What steps can public libraries take to prevent this? How can libraries become the sanctuary for athletes, who are looking to relax and recharge? Guest writer John D. Hayden discusses this and more, in this week’s Princh Library Blog.

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Public Libraries are a dynamic force in our communities. They enrich and empower lives every day. They are not just a warehouse of books but a Hub of Knowledge, a Community Center, a Safe Place, and much more. Libraries now provide everything from board games, fishing poles, surfboards, suits and ties, cake pans, STEM kits, Manipulative Kits, Tablets, Chromebooks, Laptops, and even Hot Spots.

The library world is ever-changing to meet the shifting needs of their local communities. They are places of freedom, diversity, inclusion, comfort, encouragement, enrichment, and empowerment. All walks of life use libraries in one way or another from checking out books, using technology, 3D Printing, Robotics, Faxing, Online Books, programs, and services. Some of the programs and services offered at libraries support communities’ mental health. Libraries and Social workers have so much in common. They are both committed to serving every walk of life and are willing to be to provide innovative results and meet community needs. Ultimately libraries change lives.

A welcoming place

Many people visit libraries because they feel more welcomed there than they do anywhere else. They may come to get warm or cool, use the Wi-Fi, check the news, or meet another need they have. One of those biggest needs is mental health and well-being. According to MentalHealth.gov, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps us determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every single stage of life.”

So, how can libraries help with the mental health needs in their communities? Mental health issues affect all walks of life but I would like to focus on the mental health needs of athletes. According to Athletes for Hope, “33% of all college students experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. Among that group, 30% seek help. But of all college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10% do. Among professional athletes, data show that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety.”

Libraries for athletes

If public libraries reach all people, how can we help athletes and their own mental health? We can look at all the stats about how much stress, depression, and anxiety athletes have daily. They are pushed every day with a “winning or else” mentality. They struggle with a perspective on being the best at what they do and when they fail, they feel like failures. Even the media is hard on athletes. All over social media, athletes are targeted for not catching that winning pass, for missing field goals and they are ridiculed not just by fans of other teams but even by their own fans. We live in a world where winning championships matters more than playing the game or doing your best. More athletes are now speaking up and talking about what is going on with their mental health. We see it in the news, we see it in their faces, we see the ridicule, the heartache, the depression, and the stress that sports cause.

Seton Hall University Libraries and CAPS have partnered together to provide a collection of self-help resources geared towards promoting mental health and wellness within their campus community. They provide books on topics like depression, insomnia, perfectionism, anxiety, body image issues, and substance abuse.

There is also a Wellness room on the 4th floor of the Walsh Library that “offers a calming opportunity to unplug, recenter, and practice mindfulness when feeling stressed.”

Think about it for a moment, shouldn’t public libraries be a welcoming space and refuge for people facing mental health issues? We can see how a University Library helps with the mental health of athletes but how can public libraries?

What we can do

First, the public library’s staff could systematically provide resources, services, and programs to help athletes with their well-being. Most library staff are trained in CPR but we can take it a step further and have staff trained in Mental Health First Aid. Self-care and self-love are so needed today, and Public Libraries can provide resources, books, programs, and even services to reach out to athletes. We can have books on the various mental health issues they face and have a designated spot for them to be shelved.

Second, we can highlight the resources in our communities by having mental health fairs that connect athletes with the various organizations in our communities that provide services for them. We can be innovative in our approach by developing programs for athletes like self-care, well-being, how to handle anxiety, unplugging, Live Well and Be Well, and more. We can also provide services like a wellness room, a place where they feel welcomed and safe from ridicule.

Third, we can become an avenue where athletes can just be themselves away from the spotlight, away from the harassment, and a place where they can deal with their mental well-being head-on through meditation, counseling, relaxation, and self-care.

As a Library Director, a Sports Blogger, a Kansas Jayhawks fan, and a past athlete myself I can see many ways public libraries can help with this need. We have to remind ourselves first that It is Okay To Not be Okay and share that with the athletes we connect with. It is important that they know public libraries are here to support them.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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