Mental health forums strike chord with residents: ‘I don’t have to be alone’

Sno-Isle Libraries’ most ambitious Issues That Matter series to date struck a chord with residents of Snohomish and Island counties.

Edmonds Library Issues That Matter forum
Edmonds Library hosted a forum on teen suicide and depression

“Mental Health: Let’s Talk” featured 17 forums from November through April. Nearly 700 people attended the events and almost 14,000 watched the livestreamed and archived event videos.

Post-event audience surveys show 87 percent of attendees are more aware of issues in their community, 70 percent intend to become more engaged in the community, and 83 percent are more aware of library resources and services.

Behind the numbers were deep emotions.

Parents and teens spoke of the toll that depression takes on youth. Grown children, their parents showing signs of dementia, came to the forums wondering where to turn for help. Veterans leaned in to hear about resources that fit their special needs. Caregivers expressed relief that support is available for them.

“It got me thinking that I don’t have to be alone,” one person wrote on an event survey form. Some expressed thanks for “an immense amount of information” and “the caring feeling of all the speakers.” Others were impressed that mayors and other local officials took part.

During question-and-answer sessions, audience members gripped the microphone to tell their stories. Afterward, they clustered around the expert panelists, seeking advice. Experts and audience members networked exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.

Online, Facebook viewers weighed in with their thumbs-up likes and shares.

“Thanks for live streaming!” commented one viewer. “Wasn’t able to get to the library in time– but able to listen live! I work with pediatric patients and teens in Snohomish County – great to know of all the resources available.”

When the Verdant Health Commission presented an Innovative Program Award to the mental health series, Sno-Isle Libraries Executive Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory said: “The response in the communities and from participants has been heartening.”

For their participation in the series, the district’s five Whidbey Island libraries have been collectively named the 2018 Linda Lee Martens Community Agency Health Hero. The Island County Community Health Advisory Board will present the award on May 17.

Links to video and audio recordings of the mental health forums, plus resource links, are available at Information about previous forums is also archived there. The first Issues That Matter event was held in 2010; the subject was state income tax reform.

Since then, there has been an average of two sets of forums each year. Public input has resulted in such high-profile subjects as same-sex marriage, gun violence, drugs, policing and homelessness.

Issues That Matter forums are meant to encourage community conversations. The events are free and open to the public, with funding provided by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.