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Suffolk libraries to increase mental health services in 2016

12:01 05 January 2016

Suffolk Libraries

Suffolk Libraries' mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator Sarah Lungley

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Suffolk libraries are looking to build on their strong presence in the community to support sufferers of mental ill health as they relaunch services for the new year.

A Suffolk Libraries mental health workshopA Suffolk Libraries mental health workshop

Libraries across the county have been offering schemes to help people find help for the past six years, but say they will be developing the programme even further in 2016 as the service backs the EADT’s Mental Healthwatch campaign.

Sarah Lungley, who was recently appointed as Suffolk Libraries’ new mental health and well-being co-ordinator, said there was an increasing emphasis on community organisations to step in because of the cuts facing statutory services.

“Libraries are seen as being a safe space at the centre of the community by lots of people,” she said.

“I think that can make it seem like a more approachable place for people who might be struggling with mental health or well-being to seek help.

“It can feel less pressured coming into the library than the clinical setting. Everyone knows where their local library is.”

The mental health programme offered up until now has been mainly an information-sharing system, 
helping to direct people to various points of help while working with a wide variety of health and social care providers in the county.

Library staff have been given guidance on how to support people seeking help and to provide the relevant information they might need. And a number of regular sessions have been held at the larger libraries by teaming up with other organisations and providers.

The Action Happiness programme, provided in partnership with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and with funding from Suffolk Community Foundation, has proved a popular part of the scheme, with workshops held in Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

Some of the mental health information offered at libraries in SuffolkSome of the mental health information offered at libraries in Suffolk

Based on an international scheme helping people with advice on how to become happier or help make their community a happier place, the programme also involves comedy film nights and “laugh aloud” book groups.

Ms Lungley said the plan for 2016 was to continue with the programmes offered so far while at the same time looking to provide more mental health and well-being services inhouse, to be announced over the coming months.

“I think the awareness is definitely growing,” she said. “As a community organisation the more our staff are provided with the knowledge and competency to help support people with issues such as mental health the easier it will be for people to come forward.

“Lots of people who use the library do so on a regular basis and so staff get to know them really quite well and so they can pick up on issues if they present themselves.”

A recent survey revealed Suffolk libraries received 154 enquiries about their mental health services over the course of a week – the equivalent of around 2,000 a year, which is expected to grow in 2016 as the service develops further.

Examples of Suffolk Libraries projects held over recent years

A Suffolk Libraries mental health workshopA Suffolk Libraries mental health workshop

Warm Handover project – Suffolk Libraries is part of a partnership of organisations working to help people find the help they need. As part of this partnership, if one organisation believes someone would benefit the services of another organisation they can make referrals. This means people do not have to repeat their stories to multiple organisations and also helps them access services they might not have been aware of.

Men’s Health week – Working with Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Mind, African and Caribbean Men’s Health Forum, and others, Suffolk Libraries helped provide events around health and well-being for men and promote local services.

Suffolk Information Standard – Suffolk Libraries was one of the first organisations to be accredited with the Suffolk Information Standard, in recognition of providing reliable and up-to-date information on health, care and well-being. Suffolk Healthwatch helped establish this.

Living Library – Suffolk Libraries has provided several “Living Library” events for psychology students at One, formerly Suffolk One, as well as other schools and colleges. This allows students to spend time with a volunteer to hear their experiences around mental health.

Physical activities – Ipswich Library has hosted new age kurling sessions for older people, while Halesworth Library has provided fitness sessions as part of the NHS Exercise Referral Scheme.

Visit here for more details on our Mental Health Watch campaign

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