Can picking up a book really be a good way to boost your mental health? H&W investigates how you can revitalise your reading list
There’s nothing quite like settling down with a good book for some ‘me-time’, but, unless you purchase all your reading material online, you will have noticed that recently, ‘self-help’books have been given an ever-increasing section at your local bookstores. Reads such as Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, a personal account of how he came close to committing suicide at the age of 24, and The Recovery Letters, an anthology of heartfelt letters written by people who have recovered, or are recovering from depression has struck a chord with many people. Researchers account the appetite for self-help books to rising stress levels in both the UK and the US, as well as an increased interest in self-improvement. In fact, according to Nielsen Book Research, sales have risen by 20 percent. But can you really use books to aid your mental health? Yes, psychologists answer. Research shows that it’s a way to help boost individuals’ wellbeing, self-confidence, self-esteem and overall quality of life.
Read the blurb
From June this year, health professionals in Wales are able to prescribe free library books to help people manage their mental health. Dubbed, Reading Well Books on Prescription, the scheme has been developed by The Reading Agency, public libraries and leading health organisations. The scheme was founded in 2005 by Professor Neil Frude, a clinical psychologist, and provides evidence-based self-help in the following areas: anger, anxiety, binge eating, chronic pain, depression, health anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, panic, phobias, relationship problems, selfesteem, sleep problems, social phobias, stress and worry. “People need to be able to identify which books are best for them – and that’s where The Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme comes in,” says Professor Frude. While bibliotherapy is a fantastic way to boost your mental health, researchers are quick to point out that it is not a substitute for counselling, especially if you’re feeling very distressed. “Every book on the list has been carefully chosen to help people understand and manage their health and wellbeing through reading. The books are endorsed by health experts, as well as by people living with the issues covered, including their relatives and carers. The best part is, they’re all available to borrow free from your library.”
Check it out
Since the concept was theorised in 1916, bibliotherapy has been a method of allowing people to ‘read’ their life and to live it more fully. “There are several different ways that reading a book can help someone who is struggling emotionally,” says Professor Frude. “A good book with accurate information is often very reassuring for people who feel lost and anxious, and using books as part of wider therapy can help to offer encouragement, inspiration and comfort.
Some of the most effective books are those which act as a self-help manual, guiding the person through practical activities that can relieve the distress of depression, anxiety and other difficult feelings and experiences. Such books are written by psychologists, who are highly experienced experts (often specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy) and they set out the kind of therapy programme that the therapist routinely provides ‘live’ for their clients, but in a do-ityourself format.”
Feeling your shelf
While an epic thriller from Stephen King or a heart-racing Mills & Boon tale might have your eyes glued to the page, the books that are best for your wellbeing are the ones that help you to connect deeply with the message. “Some books are written as general pick-me-ups and provide a great deal of compassion, common sense and inspiration,” says Neil. “A book that has a good bedside manner, and where you feel that you’ve got to know the author, can be very uplifting – especially if it manages to put a smile on your face. Some people get on well with general fiction, whereas others prefer the more structured guides of non-fiction that suggest practical activities that can change the way you think, and feel. Any book that invites you to think about your feelings and your actions, and the relationship between these, suggests effective ways of managing your emotions, is, in a way, a course in emotional intelligence.” Want to get together a reading list that makes you feel more connected? Reading Well has put together a mood-boosting list of uplifting titles that includes novels, poetry and nonfiction, all recommended by readers and reading groups. To find out more, visit reading-well.org.uk H W