Schools

Stories, Stress, & Schools: Why Summoning Books Can Help Students' Mental Health

By Anna Lyczmanenko

This piece was originally posted here as part of the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books series, exploring issues related to literacy, education, and libraries. To find out more about Accio Books and how Words Alive is involved, visit thehpalliance.org/accio_books

Today’s students have a lot to deal with, both in the classroom and out. Social anxiety, depression, abuse, bullying, eating disorders, and pressure to perform are issues that many young people, from elementary school through college, face every day. When things come to a head and students find themselves in crisis, many may feel that they do not have someone to confide in or don’t know who to turn to for help. This scenario is shockingly common: according to the Department of Health and Human Services, most children with a mental illness do not receive the treatment they need.

Tackling the issue of student mental health has proven to be a difficult task, even in states with funds and programs dedicated to helping children and young adults with mental health concerns. Fortunately, there are efforts to widen the conversation about mental illness and remove the stigma. As a result, discussions around youth mental health have started to enter the mainstream. This growing conversation is occurring on television, in state and national legislatures, but also at a level closer to home for kids – at school.

Young people spend a great deal of time at school, which means that schools have an opportunity to be a great resource for young people dealing with mental illness. The desire to help students has generated movements amongst teachers, school staff members, and students themselves to create programs, petitions, and resources around mental health. Many HPA chapters have been active in creating these campaigns: whether raising money for direct service organizations, hosting “de-stress” events on college campuses, or speaking out about their own experiences, wizard activists around the world are working with their schools to remove the stigma around mental illness and seeking help. This work could not be more vital. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens between the ages of 13 to 18 is at risk of a severe mental disorder.

At the elementary level, states and teachers have gotten together to mitigate mental health issues for students as they develop. In Minnesota, students can receive mental health treatment in school, removing the barriers like transportation, insurance coverage, and lengthy wait times for appointments. As a result, more students are receiving the help they need and seeing jumps in their attendance and academic performance. Other states, like California and Washington, are also looking at what schools can do to help - and that’s where wizard activists come in.

It’s no secret that reading can improve your mental health by increasing empathy, reducing stress, and even improving sleep. By making sure that young people around the world have access to books, Accio Books helps provide a vital mental health resource. Books can be powerful therapy on their own, and even more helpful when they explicitly tackle mental health and mental illness. This year for Accio Books, we have partnered with Words Alive, which means that wizard activists will help 5,000 young people and their families have access to the power of story.

Through Accio Books, wizard activists are also helping to support some of their community’s mental health first responders: librarians. Because children and teens are unlikely to be receiving the treatment they need, it’s vital that youth-serving agencies like libraries have training to recognize and support young people living with mental illness. Library staff often provide more than book recommendations, serving as a resource for everything from finding substance abuse support programs to navigating the health system. Assuring that libraries have the funding they need to keep their doors open and their staff well-trained is essential. That’s why wizard activists contacted Congress 868 times last year to support funding libraries, and that’s why we’ll do it again on May 1st and 2nd for National Library Legislative Day.

Through Accio Books, teachers, afterschool providers, library staff, students and other wizard activists are working together to increase young people’s access to books - which means we’re providing more resources for young people in need of the therapeutic benefits of reading great stories. This work, along with awareness-raising, outreach, and collaboration of services is essential to helping and empowering students living with mental illness. So be sure to visit our Accio Books headquarters to donate books, take action for libraries, become a Prefect, or even donate to support the campaign. You never know whose life your favorite stories will change.

Anna Lyczmanenko is a part Hufflepuff/part Gryffindor with a love of peanut butter, and talking about healthcare. She is the Mental Health Campaigns Researcher for the Harry Potter Alliance.