Cambridge Library director hopes to destigmatize mental wellness with new event

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

As a former high school teacher in southwest Iowa and Omaha, Erin Coughlan saw how mental health issues can impact young people firsthand. 

Serving as Cambridge Memorial Library Director in the first year and a half of the pandemic, she saw how isolation exacerbated the need for mental wellness communitywide.

Her firsthand accounts led Coughlan to apply for a $3,000 grant from Libraries Transforming Communities that will fund a variety of mental wellness programs before becoming director of the Nevada Public Library.

More: Cambridge librarian keeps patrons busy during pandemic

"I had witnessed all kinds of mental health issues affecting teenagers in particular but also their parents," Coughlan said. "I think sometimes in smaller communities because everybody knows everybody, there seems to be more of a stigma attached to the idea of mental health and mental wellness."

One of these programs, "A Community Conversation: Mental Wellness," will be held Tuesday from 6:30 pm to 8 p.m. in the Cambridge Memorial Library Community Center, 225 Water St. 

Working with the Iowa National Alliance on Mental Illness, Cambridge Memorial Library will host four or five individuals who will share their struggles with mental health, Interim Director Laurie Hazel said. 

"Our whole goal is to promote mental wellness,” Hazel said. “We want to destigmatize the whole anxiety around that topic."

The grant will allow the library to purchase over 75 books covering anxiety, disabilities, depression, suicide, yoga, and mindfulness, Hazel said. The library has also begun hosting yoga sessions twice a month. 

At the community conversation, the speakers will be seated at different tables and small groups will rotate tables to hear each personal story. By engaging with the community, Coughlan said library staff can identify gaps in services, whether at the library or other sectors of the community. 

"If we can pull in the experts and make people in Cambridge aware of some of the resources that are available to them," Coughlan said, "I think that's a huge step in the right direction."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.