Partnering for teen mental health

American teens are in a mental health crisis, according to the Office of the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and it began even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why, since 2019, assistant professor and researcher Ashley Knapp (pictured above, left), who studies teens, technology, and mental health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, has been partnering with the library to create more support and remove barriers to accessing help.

Why partner with the library?

For kids in grades 6–12, public libraries are a central community hub and a safe space staffed with trusted adults, Knapp said—“a unique and promising” context” to help bridge the gap between research and practice. The goal of this partnership is to create a widely accessible, evidence-based technology service to prevent and treat anxiety disorders in youth.

By teaming up with the library’s Director of Social Services & Public Safety Rob Simmons (pictured above, right) and Middle & High School Services staff, Knapp has held focus groups and design workshops with teens and staff at the library, to assess both what they need and barriers that stand in the way.

Last year, the project won an award for its strong collaborative research principles and work to impact health and equity in Oak Park and neighboring communities. The photo above shows Simmons and Knapp accepting the ARCC Community-Academic Research Partnership Award in September with Jen Brown, Director and Founder of Northwestern University’s Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC).

“As a community space that is free and open to the public, libraries often serve adolescents who are most experiencing inequities and are from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic communities,” Simmons said. “Public libraries, including ours, have made efforts to create safe spaces for these adolescents by prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Now in the final year of a five-year grant, the team is pursuing usability testing, a pilot trial of an app, the creation of community advisory boards, and future grant funding. Details of the app launch are being planned, and the website is set to go live this winter.

About the library’s Social Services team 

The library’s Social Services & Public Safety team ensures safety in the library and refers people to resources for mental health, housing, employment, health care, immigration, domestic violence, and more, drawing on a wide network of relationships and connections.

For example, in 2023, the team facilitated 300 hours of free clinical mental health support to patrons via the library’s partnership with Rush University Medical Center, which began in 2019.

Please contact Rob Simmons, Director of Social Services & Public Safety, with any questions ( or 708.697.6910).