News Article Details

Library staff embrace mental health training

Skagit Valley Herald - 9/15/2018

Sept. 15--MOUNT VERNON -- A course in de-escalating situations related to mental health is being used by Mount Vernon City Library staff as a way of being more compassionate with patrons.

Library Director Isaac Huffman said 10 of his 17 staff members have taken the Mental Health First Aid course offered by Compass Health, and he's enrolled the remaining seven in an upcoming session.

"When working with the public, you run into your fair share of mental health issues," he said. "I think people's first instinct is to be fearful."

In taking the course, Huffman said he and his staff got a better idea of how to address situations where people are causing a disturbance, such as a person having a loud conversation with someone who isn't there.

"Instead of confronting them with our reality ... mental health first aid teaches us to ask them, 'Can you have that conversation outside?'" he said.

Huffman and his staff see this kind of mental health issue more frequently than situations where someone is threatening to others or themselves.

The Compass Health course teaches participants to know when they should intervene when someone is exhibiting symptoms of a mental health crisis but also know when they're out of their depth, said Diana Beal, training supervisor with Compass Health.

Like traditional first aid, a bystander without medical training can only do so much, so they are instructed to assess the situation and connect the individual with help, she said.

The eight-hour course touches on common mental health diagnoses, what symptoms of a mental health crisis to look for, how to listen without judging and how to recommend mental health services.

"This meets people in the community where they're at," Beal said.

She said participants learn how to engage and get someone talking about themselves before they start asking questions.

Beal applauded the library's interest in the program because of the library's role in the community as a welcoming, public place.

Librarians interact with a lot of people and get to know frequent patrons, she said.

Huffman said the Mount Vernon library can be a place where people end up when they don't have anywhere else to go, and that can bring with it instances of mental health issues.

It's important for staff to be able to offer assistance and compassion, rather than fear and suspicion, he said.

Beal said the increased interest from people such as the Mount Vernon library staff is something she's seeing in several similar communities.

"They see things happening in their community and they don't know how to help," she said.

While the next course in Mount Vernon is fully booked, Beal said an Oct. 26 youth-focused Mental Health First Aid class in Mount Vernon has openings.

More information is available at

-- Reporter Brandon Stone:, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH{p style="margin-bottom: 0in;"}


(c)2018 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)

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