Ingram Blog

Mental Illness Affects Us All

Debbie Davenport, MLS, Collection Development Librarian
Librarians, public servants that we are, see many things in our careers and are confronted with a multitude of questions, requests, and situations. I always viewed a patron’s request for information as slaking my own thirst for knowledge. The topics varied from World War II history to astrology; local genealogy to learning how to sew; green energy to the latest tax law. Most were exciting and effervescent unveilings of new information… but there were those library consumers who made requests in haunting ways I will never forget.

One such topic I encountered quite frequently was the hushed questions concerning information on mental health. The patrons seemed fearful to allow their gaze to meet mine as they quietly queried about depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder. For their father, their daughter, a spouse, best friend. My heart would ache for them as I led them to the stacks containing mental health information and helped them with their selections. Days would pass after their visit, and they would still be on my mind. Why the timidity on an issue of mental health?

The stigma causing those whispered requests for information has existed for centuries. In ancient cultures such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans, mental illness was viewed as a religious or personal problem. In the Middle Ages in Europe, people with mental illness were believed to be possessed by the devil or needing to find God. They were treated differently—sometimes subjected to horrible experimentation or executed for madness. This negative outlook on those with a mental health condition persisted into the early 1800s in the United States, leading to unclean and often degrading confinement of the mentally ill. The whispered conversations about the unfit member of a family “put away” were accepted by society.

To many of us today, this is unimaginable and unacceptable treatment for those suffering from widely recognized illnesses—many of which are diagnosed in today’s youth. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five youth (ages 13 to 18) in the United States experiences mental illness during their lifetime. This staggering statistic demonstrates that over 20% of America’s current teen population will face and struggle with the symptoms of a mental health disorder. That is one-fifth of our teen population, folks, and the number of those affected is rising every year.

Librarians live to provide information to help and inform others. With the rise in the number of youth being diagnosed with mental health conditions each year, it is imperative to continue to provide useful and informative materials to the public on these conditions. The Youth Collection Development Team at Ingram updates such diverse categories as mental health on a semi-annual basis. These lists can be found on ipage’s High Interest Categories tab, under the Children’s and Teen headings for all interest levels. Click on the button for a list of each level.


The status of the mental health of our nation affects us all, whether we are diagnosed with an illness or not. As good stewards of information, let’s educate ourselves and the public on these conditions to assist medical and mental health professionals in determining how to help those around us who may not know where else to turn. We can be a step in the direction of removing those centuries-old stigmas that cause the whispering.


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