Read a good book lately? We don’t just mean a great thriller or a laugh-out-loud romp. Sometimes books can actually do you some good, offering self-help or encouragement where it’s badly needed. 

As we enter Mental Health Awareness Week, the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme – a  partnership between The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians, funded by the Arts Council and endorsed by GPs – has announced that in the past two years it has reached around 445,000 people with book-based therapy and helpful reading for common mental health conditions and dementia.

In nearly all English libraries now, borrowers can find a series of books specifically selected to meet the public need for support with understanding and managing their mental health and wellbeing. And of those who have availed themselves of this service 90% said it had been helpful, and 55% felt the books they’d read had helped reduce their symptoms.

The core self-help books are written by experts and focus on depression, anxiety, dementia, stress, panic, anger, and eating disorders. Health professionals can prescribe the books, but they are also available free for anyone to borrow from their local library. While there are around 6,500 prescribers using the scheme, 73% of people who borrowed a book had ‘self-referred’ by simply picking them up themselves.

The organisers gave this report from one user of scheme: “It was really useful to take the book home and work on it in my own time. The fact that it got me doing some of the exploration and understanding work made me feel as if I’d got some control back. I found myself looking forward to reading it.”

Among the organisations supporting the scheme are the British Psychological Society, NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme (IAPT), British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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