VIRL providing mental health training for staff

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, April 3 2019

The staff at the Vancouver Island Regional Library are receiving mental health training as VIRL looks to provide a healthier work place for them.

Jason McConnell, Divisional Manager, Health & Safety, and Melissa Legacy, Director of Library Services and Planning, spoke to the Sounder recently on the training being provided to library staff.

McConnell said the idea is two-fold: for staff to be better able to take care of their own mental health, and being able to help fellow staff and customers.

“This is more of a proactive and preventative measure.”

For all staff, training will focus on their personal health and wellness, including a mental health first aid kit, and providing tools and awareness to real life issues that “we all experience but may not be aware of.

“That’s the first part.

“The second part is anyone who is in a leadership role, formal or informal - they might see indicators to assist their co-worker in.”

McConnell said that given libraries serve a diverse number of demographics, “there are all personal challenges that we all have. We want to give our staff the tools for someone who might be struggling, have the staff approach [them], come in with an empathic lens.”

He pointed out that in any workplace, violence prevention is a key item.

“Having the situational awareness from the beginning, and some empathy, you might approach someone differently and have more personal safety in mind when you make your approach.

“It’s a holistic approach. It starts with the employee, their family, the supervisors and ultimately the customers we serve.”

The VIRL training is drawing from the curriculum created by the Canadian Mental Health Association, and uses the CMHA instructors.

For each staff person, it involves 12 hours of training over two days.

McConnell said the uptake from staff has been positive, though they are in the early stages, and VIRL stretches from Victoria all the way up Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and into Haida Gwaii.

McConnell said he’s coming from another industry perspective where he was looking at staff through a CMHA first aid lens.

“We started to see a lot of non-physical type injuries, a lot of mental health conditions that started to get compensated by WorkSafe BC.

“We also saw a lot of acute stress-related presentations, either from witnessing another employee injury event, or stress of the work place.”

In creating the program used through his previous job, McConnell came to VIRL and started working with Legacy to review the VIRL program.

They presented the program to VIRL leadership, where McConnell says they found nothing but full support.

The course includes substance-related presentations, as well as mood-related, anxiety, psychosis, and trauma-related presentations.

The goal though is crisis first aid intervention - not diagnosis.

McConnell said, “What they do, is they don’t teach you to diagnose. They teach an algorithm for the individual to gain help.”

Legacy said the other piece of the course is “talking more about mental health issues and recognizing them for what they are, reducing the stigma around mental health. 

“Not just ignoring it because you’re not comfortable, being able to talk about mental health issues is important as well. We want our staff to be skilled and knowledgeable so that a visit to a branch is comfortable, welcoming, a good experience for anyone no matter what they’re dealing with.

“That speaks to how unique library spaces are - there are no expectations to purchase, to interact, your experience in the space is how you want it to be.”

McConnell said when he went through the course himself, “you can’t not but think about your own life, your family, your friends, the situations you’ve gone through, it causes self-reflection as well. That’s not the intent, but it is an outcome, it really resonates with some of the staff.”

Legacy added, “I’ve taken the course. It’s providing tools that inevitably you’re going to reflect on and use in your own personal life.”