How libraries can support students’ mental health: a comprehensive guide

How libraries can support students’ mental health: a comprehensive guide

Today, we’re delighted to present a blog post by guest author Ryan Smith on how libraries can support your mental health. Our librarians’ main role is to help you get the most from your time at university. While we might focus on helping you find the information you need for your assignments, evaluate sources and understand how referencing works, chatting with a librarian can help put everything in perspective. We can be a real font of information on all things university, putting you in touch with other student services across the university and helping you navigate the sometimes confusing world of higher education.Editor

Libraries are a staple of the university experience. They make conducting research, writing essays, and revising for exams so much easier, but they can also provide benefits outside of academia.

Being a student isn’t always easy, and when things get tough, libraries can be incredible sources of support.

Student mental health issues are really common. Moving away from home, getting used to a new city, making new friends – it can all be a lot to take in, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic which affected so many students’ secondary and further education.

Learning about the key role of libraries can help young people improve their sense of wellbeing.

A safe space or second home

Libraries are havens for the studious and collaborative. Students can find them to be great environments for reading up on a subject or working on a group project, but the relaxing atmosphere of a library can help mental health too.

With comfortable seating, heating, food and drink machines, and toilets, libraries are safe spaces that students can come to in their time of need. If things are difficult at home or they need somewhere to get away from their thoughts for a while, libraries offer this escape.

For many who move away from home to attend university, the sense of permanence and stability offered by libraries can help them cope with mental health conditions and develop a new routine.

Social interaction and support lines

Student loneliness is much more common than people often realise. Young people who move away from home, and even those who don’t, can find themselves struggling to make new friends at university, and this can develop into a debilitating feeling of loneliness.

The pressure to go out, have fun, and party can often make this experience worse, but students often don’t realise that they can access support during these times from a library.

Libraries are an ideal location for meeting and socialising with other students. While they are no place for parties, they can be perfect for quiet check-ins with how one another is doing.

Librarians are also available to support student wellbeing. Although their primary role is to maintain the library, staff are open to hearing how you are doing. They know the trials and tribulations of higher education, so they can become a pillar you come to depend on.

Friendship and communal engagement

Libraries are so often the meeting place for friends who plan to study or work on a project together, but they can also offer students the opportunity to meet new people and engage in activities they never thought they would try.

Events held in libraries can introduce struggling students to a variety of new ideas, cultures, and practices. Cultural diversity, literature, arts and crafts, mental health workshops – there’s no shortage of library events to get stuck into over the academic year.

Attending these events can help students make new friends and alter their negative perceptions of the world. From there, libraries can then provide a safe space to regularly meet those friends and build support networks.

Discovering the pleasures of reading

Reading is one of the greatest joys in life, and adopting it into your everyday routine can help your mental wellbeing in several ways [1].

Students might overlook these benefits, considering reading to be something they only did as a children, but rekindling this hobby can be very beneficial.

Libraries contain a variety of books and journals, but they aren’t all for academic use. Fiction and non-fiction books are abundant, and students can find romance, history, sci-fi, horror, and sports books that capture their imagination if they just take the time to look.

When students rediscover the joys of reading, they can find their mindset becoming more relaxed and focused. By finding somewhere quiet in the library to escape for a while, they can begin to develop a mental and emotional stability that helps them cope.

An added bonus is that students will often find themselves reading about others who have struggled in their lives. Whether in fiction or memoir, the people we read about can show us that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, improving the wellbeing of students.

Providing routes to self help

When a young person is struggling, it’s imperative that they seek support. For many, however, this can be a daunting step to take.

Looking for ways to support your own mental health can be a great route to finding more regular long-term support, and libraries provide a wealth of relevant resources and information.

Histories of student mental health research and support books written and researched by mental health professionals can be navigated and explored, and students can find what helps them.

Here, speaking with a librarian can be really helpful. They can lead you towards texts and authors that can help you understand and think about your struggles, and librarians can also help in pointing you in the right direction of on-campus mental health services.

Improving health literacy

There’s a lot of information on the internet about mental health, and being able to decipher the useful from the misleading is essential if a student is to understand and treat their personal struggles effectively.

As well as providing a student with information about mental health, libraries can provide them with the skills to identify and scrutinise information they come across. Digital literacy and fact checking are skills that university libraries across the UK help students develop.

While these skills have clear benefits for assessing and judging the credibility of academic sources for essays, they can also help students recognise when online information can help them and when it ought to be ignored.

Supporting with studies

Libraries’ most obvious function – helping students write essays and prepare for exams – can be one of its most vital ways of supporting those with mental health struggles.

Handling the workload of student life can be a huge source of stress. Reading, writing, preparing for seminars, revising for exams – it can be a lot, and students can also have part time jobs and social events to think about. Libraries help students organise these tasks.

Libraries offer resources that give students the skills they need to effectively navigate the world of academia. How to find books and journals, how to reference, the best way to read sources, strategies for time management – libraries can help with it all.

Helping those with addiction

For many, university offers an opportunity for reinvention. Lots of students experiment during these years, and use of recreational substances can often result. In particular, students can begin using alcohol and other drugs on a regular basis. You can get in touch with organisations such as Talk to Frank or Rehab Recovery.

When substance use increases, so too do the risks of developing an addiction. If students fall into a dangerous cycle of consuming drugs or alcohol more and more, libraries can become a haven of stability and calm.

As supportive spaces with incredible staff, libraries can become informative sources of support and guidance, improving student wellbeing and helping young people see the virtues of study and quiet reflection.

~ Ryan Smith



Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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