San Diego librarians receive Mental Health First Aid training

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The job description of a librarian goes far beyond recommending books and organizing shelves -- they're often the first responders when someone needs help in the library.

"I think there's a misperception of what librarians would be. Everybody has a bun in their hair and a pocket pen protector," said Joe Miesner, access services librarian at San Diego Central Library.

Miesner has been working at San Diego libraries for 26 years. He and his colleagues say they got into the field to help the community.

"We're a great community link where everybody is welcome," said Miesner.

Most of the librarians have been trained in traditional first aid, but they will soon learn how to address the hidden wounds.

Staff with the San Diego Public Library are taking part in the Mental Health First Aid course, learning skills to provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health issue or substance abuse problem or experiencing a crisis.

"Instead of stopping bleeding, we are assessing someone who might be in crisis," said Michelle Ruiz, branch manager for North University Community Library.

Ruiz and Miesner are also certified to teach the course to others.

"Just recently, we had a teen in crisis. Our staff did an amazing job reassuring that person," said Miesner. "It was a real victory for us."

The Central Library serves many of the city's homeless residents, like Kenny Hughes. He's grateful to hear the city is investing time to help its patrons who live with mental illness.

"My oldest brother committed suicide, died in my arms," said Hughes. "It's very important. We all want to be heard, we all want to be loved. That's what I do, talk to people suffering these conditions."

This week, 30 more librarians will complete the training, and the city hopes to put all 700 staff members through it eventually.

Mental Health First Aid is a course developed by the National Council on Behavioral Health. The California State Library is paying for the courses through a $1 million Mental Health Initiative, funded by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).

Mental Health First Aid offers courses to groups and companies, offering adult and youth mental health training.

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