NEW Healthy Living Series in July

A pile of fruit including lemons, limes, tangerines, apples, kiwis, and a bananas.

by Chloe M.

Did you know there is a link between your mood and what you eat? Can you effectively mitigate challenging situations for yourself and those around you? Have you learned about the new mental health crisis number 988?

If you are an adult who answered no to any or all of these questions, you need to join us for the new Howard County Health Department Healthy Living Series. The series consists of three upcoming classes offered at the library (HCLS Miller, Savage, and Central branches) with the goal of fostering resilient communities. Taught by a variety of healthcare professionals, the free classes are supplemented with peer lived experience. We engage on topics including nutrition, self-care, and effective coping, which are recommended for even the healthiest of adults – not just to have solid information yourself but in case you need to assist friends and family members.

The 2021 Howard County Health Assessment Report data was published last fall. The data demonstrated an increased need to share mental health information and resources with adults in Howard County. Thirty-five percent of residents reported feeling depressed or lonely during the two-week period prior to being surveyed. Additionally, 50 percent of residents reported experiencing feelings of nervousness or anxiety in the 2-week period of being surveyed.

These trends were particularly concerning among young adults (18-24 years old). Respondents were asked, “Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by ‘feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?’” Six percent of all residents responded, “nearly every day. However, when broken down by age, nearly one quarter (23 percent) of residents ages 18-24 said they felt down, depressed, or hopeless “nearly every day.” Residents were also asked, “Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by ‘feeling anxious, nervous, or on edge?’” Ten percent of all residents responded “nearly every day.” A quarter (25 percent) of residents ages 18-24 years old said they felt anxious, nervous, or on edge “nearly every day.”

The HCHD Healthy Living Series looks to combat the stigma associated with mental health that continues to prevent adults from seeking help. The three-class series takes place on Tuesday evenings, as follows:

1. When the Going Gets Tough: Managing Stress with Peer Stories

Tuesday, July 19; 7 – 8 pm at HCLS Miller Branch

Become a community care access point! Join us in developing the skillset to mitigate challenging situations for yourself and those around you. This presentation will include real stories from National Alliance on Mental Illness volunteers and stress screening resources.

Registration required.

2. Our Community Care Roadmap: Navigating the Landscape of Mental Health Resources in Howard County

Tuesday, July 26; 7 – 8 pm at HCLS Savage Branch

Follow the roadmap to care with instructional stops along the way at brain health education, early intervention, and intensive intervention. The class introduces new health resources, including 988 and GBRICS.

Registration required.

3. Building Your Toolbox: Nutrition, Exercise, and Self-care for Better Brain Health

Tuesday, August 2; 7 – 8 pm at HCLS Central Branch

Explore the science behind nutrition and mental health to understand the link between your mood and what you eat. Learn how exercise and self-care activities can improve brain health.

Registration required.

If you have any questions, email HCLS Information and Research Specialist Nancy Targett at nancy.targett@hclibrary.org. Together we can create a model community care system in which all Howard County residents know how to prevent and respond to health challenges. We hope to see you there!

Chloe McGeehan is a recent River Hill High School graduate. Through the DukeEngage Gateway summer program, she is working to facilitate collaborations that generate behavioral health resources for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. She enjoys trail running, spending time with family and friends, painting, and making music.

Losing Eden by Lucy Jones

A circle filled with the white "negative" space of different sorts of ferms and plants against a green and red background sits above the title and author.

by Ben H.

What can a casual reader take away from Lucy Jones’s 2020 book Losing Eden: Our Fundamental Need for the Natural World and its Ability to Heal Body and Soul? I’d like to say I’m not just a casual reader, but I am. Losing Eden isn’t as entertaining as Rhythm of War, as helpful as The Korean Vegan (I can’t stop making the spicy and crunchy garlic tofu!), or as cathartic as rewatching The Return of the King. But, it’s totally worth your while!

Losing Eden is informative, thought-provoking, and well researched. I found inspiration in its pages. I found it comforting and distressing. Sometimes it’s comforting to read a whole book about how the world is hurtling toward disaster instead of dozens of headlines, short articles, op-eds, and social media posts. Reading Losing Eden made me feel like Ethan Hawke in First Reformed, except I have a daughter and I don’t pour Pepto-Bismol in my whiskey.

Losing Eden is glued together with memoir paste, but it’s mostly an academic, research-based treatise on the importance of time spent outdoors, the immense value of plants and animals, and the urgent need to protect the natural world. Jones uses climate change, mental health, socio-economics, and racial equity as reasons to care about this green world. She also references dozens, if not hundreds, of studies, books, and research projects running the gamut from the social effects of green space in Chicago to the importance of the Białowieża Forest, a primeval area in Poland and Belarus. 

She cites Robert Pyle’s theory of the extinction of experience. Pyle’s general idea is that the less we interact with nature, the less we will care about it. Extinction leads to extinction of experience and then to more extinction. Jones writes, “Over the past fifty years the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish have fallen by 60 percent worldwide.” Passages like that are distressing.  

Jones explores the possible emotional impact of spending time outdoors. The answer might be in the dirt. A bacteria found in dirt, mycobacterium vaccae, has been linked to increased happiness. In 2004, oncologist Mary O’Brien created, “a serum that contained M. vaccae, a species of bacteria found in soil.” It did not have the desired effect, a cure for cancer, “but, strangely, those who received the immunization reported feeling happier.” Dr. Christopher Lowry was separately working on a similar research project and found that ,“mice injected with the bacterium exhibited fewer anxiety- or fear-like behaviour and were 50 percent less likely to have stress-induced colitis.” It’s dangerous to label nature as a panacea for mental health issues, but I think Jones makes a compelling argument, while being careful not to stray into an irresponsible reliance on nature as a magical cure.  

Jones also mentions chronic inflammation and its connection with mental health. She writes, “people with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other neuropsychiatric disorders have been found to have higher levels of inflammation biomarkers.” Cytokines are a biomarker for inflammation, and “studies show that just two hours In a forest can significantly lower cytokine levels in the blood, soothing inflammation. This could partly be caused by exposure to important microorganisms.” If you’ve never heard of shinrin-yoku, this book is for you.

She also approaches the topic from a socioeconomic angle. She writes that “people in lower socio-economic groups or from racial and ethnic minorities usually have less access to green space and parks than those who are white and affluent.” She traces this issue back to the 17th century and the enclosure acts in England: “the practice of enclosing land from the British people began in earnest with the passing of over 5,200 Enclosure Acts between 1604 and 1914, which fenced off 6.8 million acres of previously common land.” I particularly loved this part of her book because the enclosure acts were an integral part of my thesis on pastoral poetry. If you’re ever in the UMBC library, check out: “Borrowed Weeds: Courtiers in Disguise in Renaissance Pastoral.” I guarantee you’ll be the first person to ever check it out.  

Jones saved one of her most compelling arguments for last. She cites the research of Professor Rich Mitchell from the University of Glasgow. His idea of “equigenesis” is full of real-world applications. The basic idea is that “If an environment is equigenic, it may reduce the gap between the rich and the poor by weakening the link between socio-economic inequality and health inequality.” Prof. Mitchell realized that the massive changes needed to address inequity weren’t going to happen, so he searched for other solutions. A 2015 study looking at more than 20,000 people in 34 European countries showed that, “access to nature was the one characteristic that reduced socio-economic inequality in mental well-being (by 40 percent).” 

Her evidence is compelling. Jones accumulated loads of research and attacked the question from many angles. I had a lot of takeaways from her book. I should definitely encourage my daughter to play in the dirt. I should garden. I should spend time outdoors. Should I buy a chicken to diversify my microbiota like Jones did? Maybe? 

I’ll definitely encourage my daughter to continue to watch squirrels, look for the moon during the day, and watch for chubby hawks in the trees.  

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Talk Therapy

By Holly L.

When faced with a personal problem, some people will talk about it. Find a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear to fill. Others of us have a tendency to downplay it, to deny it, to avoid talking about it. This isn’t the healthiest coping method, bottling it all up inside and burying that bottle in the backyard behind the garden that really needs watering and….what was that? A problem? There’s no problem. It’s all….just…. FINE. 

(smiles sheepishly) 

Even though I sometimes — okay, often — have trouble talking about my problems, when I do let down my guard and confide to someone, I almost always feel miraculously better. The truth is that talking helps, and I find the same sort of comfort reading about the personal struggles of others and learning about how they’ve navigated their own difficult moments. Two recent nonfiction books recall this power of a good talk to bring peace to a troubled mind.

The cover shows a square, yellow tissue box with a white tissue coming out of the top of it, against a turquoise background with the title overlaid in black lettering.


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a fascinating and highly readable memoir by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb. In this 2019 book, she shares her experience as a therapist going to therapy following a devastating personal crisis. We are introduced to the character of Wendell, her quirky therapist with a shabby office and a straightforward but compassionate demeanor. During the author’s sessions with Wendell, we are allowed glimpses of the kinds of thoughts that run through a therapist’s mind when she herself is in therapy: Does he think my problems are trivial? Will he ever replace this old couch? Does he like me? Weaving the story of her own journey with those of her patients, Gottlieb offers up a humor-laced but empathetic glimpse into her own and her patients’ sessions, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at therapy from both sides of the therapist’s couch. As I followed Gottlieb and her patients’ struggles and successes, I saw parts of myself reflected in the characters and was prompted to examine my own relationship to therapy and the benefits of talking through problems. Also available as an eBook.

The book cover shows a pink rose with a thorny green stem, winding through the black lettering of the title against a cream-colored background. The author's name, Anna Sale, and "Host of the Podcast Death, Sex & Money" are written in cornflower blue.

I have been a fan of Anna Sale’s podcast Death, Sex, and Money for a few years and had been eagerly anticipating the release of Let’s Talk About Hard Things when it landed on our library shelves in May (also available as an eBook). This moving book continues the kinds of discussions that make her podcast so compelling, focusing on, “the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” Subjects ranging from, yes, death, sex, and money, but also family and identity. Sale opens the book by sharing some hard things from her own past, specifically the unraveling of her first marriage. Feeling utterly lost after her divorce, she began to find strength and clarity by talking to others about their own dark times and hearing how they found, or didn’t find, peace. Realizing how therapeutic these hard conversations can be, she was inspired to launch her podcast in 2014 on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. Let’s Talk About Hard Things serves as a companion piece to Death, Sex, and Money, and it contains some of the most crucial conversations and valuable lessons from Sale’s life. Fans of the podcast will be reassured to know that, although the book may include a few references to the podcast, the majority of the material comes from fresh interviews conducted for this project. Sale’s written tone is as warm and personal as the voice she brings to her podcast (for this reason, I highly recommend the eAudiobook). After finishing this book, I was left with a feeling of comfort, as if I had just had a conversation with a close friend. The kind of conversation that doesn’t always find answers but that deepens connections and speaks to the power of just talking. And being heard. 

If you need someone to talk to, please visit this HCLS page for local mental health resources.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Death in Her Hands

The cover is in green, with the semi-profile of a woman in light blue; its edges are jagged as if pixilated on a flickering TV screen. At the very bottom of her profile, where the chin would be, is a tiny human silhouette in black, facing her as if approaching.

By Ben H.

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body” 

Vesta, the amazingly unstable 72-year-old narrator of Death in Her Hands, is my favorite of all of Ottessa Moshfegh’s growing roster of eccentric narrators. The main conceit of Death in Her Hands is that Vesta must solve a murder mystery. Before we know anything else about Vesta, we learn that she found a note in the woods (quoted above) and believes that she needs to solve the mystery (there is no body).  

Based solely on that note, Vesta envisions a detailed backstory for Magda and the murderer. She imagines one plausible idea after another and adds details until she’s created a truth that is incredibly real to her. A wild journey, Death in Her Hands occurs mostly inside Vesta’s head. Moshfegh immerses the reader so far into Vesta’s isolated, almost solipsistic, world that it’s jarring when Vesta interacts with anyone other than her dog Charlie. She must interact with others because her investigation takes her all around her small Northeastern town. She visits the public library, picks up a hitchhiker, visits odd neighbors, runs from wild animals, and finds clues. As she finds clues about the murder, she drops clues about her own mysterious past.

The book is a murder mystery, and Moshfegh plays with that genre and those tropes, but it is also a psychological drama. Moshfegh is an accomplished writer who gives the reader enough information to know that Vesta is not trustworthy, but not enough information to completely dismiss the murder as a figment of her imagination. At times Death in Her Hands reads more like Woolf’s The Waves or Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49Vesta’s thoughts carry us like waves; and her investigation doesn’t always make sense, but it always almost makes sense.

It’s easy to believe Vesta. She’s likable and very persuasive.
You almost believe that she’s solved the mystery! 
…Then you realize that you aren’t sure that there ever was a note. 

The book explores mental health, aging, abusive relationships, and isolation. Those don’t sound like cheery topics, but Vesta is a funny narrator, and she makes it an enjoyable ride: “My God, he could be crouched behind the kitchen door, and there you’d be, standing in your socked feet and bathrobe, agog at the knife glinting in the rack. Had you used it to chop onions? Had you forgotten that you’d wandered down for a midnight snack, left the knife out, et cetera? Were you still dreaming? Was I?” 

Moshfegh is a master of cultivating a dreamlike quality (she nailed it in McGlue as well). When everything seems off, it’s hard to know if anything is real. If you like dark, brilliant, insightful, inventive writing, I think you’d enjoy Death in Her Hands.

P.S. This is ostensibly a review of Death in Her Hands, but it’s really a recommendation to go read ANY Ottessa Moshfegh (she’s incredible). If you’re looking to have a weird weekend, pick up a bunch of Moshfegh from your local library and get lost in her wild world.  Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook via Libby/OverDrive.

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).