Growing Mental Health Issues Threatening Public Library Systems

The advancements in technology, including the Internet, pose a threat to certain traditions and infrastructures. While libraries face a future of uncertainty, recent research has found that people with untreated severe mental illnesses may pose a greater risk to the future of America’s public libraries. Medical News Today reported on a new study that surveyed 1,300 public libraries and found that 9 out of 10 library staff members say that patrons with a mental illness have disturbed or affected the use of the library by other people. Nearly 85 percent of these people say they have had to call the police as a result of these instances. “Our nation’s libraries are turning into daytime shelters for people with severe mental illness who need to be in treatment,” said lead study author E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., founder of the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center and Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. “The fact that libraries remain a safe haven from violence and life on the streets for people with mental illness is a sad commentary. Doing so devalues human life and the importance of libraries in our communities.” This issue within the nation’s library systems simply reflects a larger social problem as there is a lack of available treatment for people with severe mental illnesses. The problem is even greater for those who are discharged from mental hospitals without any follow-up care. Many of these individuals are homeless and take to libraries and other public facilities just to have somewhere to go. As a result of this cultural phenomenon, libraries are becoming mental health centers that are ill-equipped to accommodate these patrons. Increasing incidents could incite a demand for change, impacting the overall structure of the public library system.

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