Library Director Uses Deliberation to Help Combat One of the Highest Suicide Rates in the Nation

Blog Category: 

  • Richfield Public Library, Utah

Blythe Ogilvie, Director of the Richfield Public Library in Richfield, Utah, was a recipient of the Taylor Willingham Fund grant, intended to help people pursue public engagement projects in their communities. In this article, published in the Youth Services Round Table News, Ogilvie describes how she is using the grant to enrich programs aimed at preventing suicide among teens, and especially among Native American teens. She is working to "create an evidence-based dialogue curriculum" and descibes how she will be using before and after surveys, in addition to a control group, to collect data "to assess the relevancy of the dialogues in creating a better awareness of mental health issues and resources."

Richfield Library Fights Against Teen Mental Illness with New Library Program

by Blythe Ogilvie, Library Director at Richfield Public Library

In January 2015, I (Library Director Blythe Ogilvie of Richfield Public Library) was awarded one of two Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund grants through NIFI (National Issues Forums Institute), from among hundreds of applications received both nationally and internationally.

Unfortunately, Sevier County and the surrounding area has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. I sit on a multi-agency team including Central Utah Counseling, Sevier School District, community agencies and religious organizations which meets monthly to address prevention issues, and to plan and evaluate ongoing programs, including anti-bullying campaigns and “kindness” initiatives in the schools.

The NIFI youth dialogues are part of this effort. Sadly, the Central Utah area has had three more teen suicides in the three months since I won the grant. I am working to assure that the dialogues are integrated with efforts by local mental health professionals and the school district.

I am working with the director of the Richfield Indian Dormitories, Cody Workman, whose degree is in Mental Health Counseling, and a counselor form Behavioral Health Associates, Kristie Jensen, to create an evidence-based dialogue curriculum on “Resiliency,” which is proven to be a key factor in suicide prevention. The program will pilot in April in the Indian Dorms, where about 90 Navajo-Dine high school youth from Northern Arizona live during the school year, attending Richfield High School. The dialogue programs will be presented at the dorms in “Family Group” meetings – in six-week sessions. The youth who participate, as well as a control group, will take before-and-after surveys to assess the relevancy of the dialogues in creating a better awareness of mental health issues and resources.

For the past two months, I have also been meeting weekly with incarcerated youth at CUYC – Central Utah Youth Corrections, for about 45 minutes each Wednesday. I am working together with the youth to help them re-define their perception of the world – (instead of the self-stigma: “I’m a loser, I’m a delinquent”) – they are working on re-labeling themselves as being fortunate to attend “private school” and to see their challenges as great opportunities for growth! – A time to reflect, read, write. Using the books purchased with the Taylor Willingham grant funds, the students discuss how the literature relates to their healing and recovery. This recovery-based realistic fiction deals with youth who are depressed, suicidal, have problems with addiction, are incarcerated, etc. She also brings a variety of other books for them to choose from. They love science fiction/fantasy, and have some great discussions, relating what we are reading to our lives.

During April, the youth will be creating poetry to submit to “Words Unlocked” – in “an effort to encourage literary exploration by young people held in locked juvenile facilities. Far too many people are locked up around the country. Through this initiative, we continue to ensure that their words are not.” Grant funds were used to purchase personal journals for each student, as well as some brightly colored marker pens for them to illustrate their feelings and ideas.

I have met with the school district superintendent to assess their needs for staff training materials available through the National Libraries of Medicine and have purchased the journal articles which they chose among those available on suicide prevention efforts with teens and in schools.

I am following the lead of the professionals (School Administrators, Mental Health Professionals) to create positive programs, and to enhance the programs they already have in place. The only one that is “mine exclusively” is the one at CUYC on a weekly basis – I have brought in American poetry as a bridge to start dialogue, including some from Maya Angelou, Shel Siverstein, Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson. The students have shared their poetry with me, created artwork, which I have posted on our Library Facebook page, and signed the Victory Over Violence Pledge (see It’s an exciting opportunity to interact with youth who are at high risk for suicide.

The library outreach programs into CUYC and the school district initiated through the auspices of the NIFI (Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund) grant will be ongoing. The grant provided the stimulus to get started, and Richfield Public Library (and Director Ogilvie) is committed to making these programs a permanent part of the outreach for the Richfield Public Library.