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Reading’s Power to Heal

Everyone has days when they are feeling a little ‘down’. Sometimes that little feeling can suddenly begin to feel like a lot. So on World Mental Health Day, it may be a comfort to think that there is a reassuring friend that you can keep by your side for whenever you need it – a book. For when anxiety or depression really attacks, did you know that there is a growing body of scientific evidence that reading can be good for your state of mind?


Books can:

  • Build social skills and confidence
  • Increase empathy and sympathy
  • Combat stress and anxiety
  • Help you understand and manage a condition like depression

The author DH Lawrence once wrote: ‘One sheds one’s sicknesses in books,’ and it’s certainly true that reading can be used as a first step to understanding and managing symptoms or seeking help. But with so much out there, how do you know what is really a ‘good’ book?


A new scheme, Reading Well Books on Prescription, delivers book-based therapy that works within clinical guidelines and is delivered to you, free, at the heart of your local library. Research just out shows that there have been proven health benefits, and so far nearly half a million people have gone to public libraries to try the scheme. Which all goes to show that you are not alone; for instance, nearly a fifth of adults in the UK have had experience of anxiety or depression.

  • 90% of people said their book helped them understand their condition better
  • 85% said that it had made them feel more confident about managing symptoms
  • 55% felt their symptoms had reduced

The idea of books as therapy is not exactly new – the ancient Greeks believed that reading brought people into order and harmony. What is new about these Books on Prescription, most of them self-help books, is that the titles have been tried and tested. They have been chosen by panels of health professionals, and work within clinical guidelines.


There are two lists; one for common mental health conditions and one for people with dementia or those who care for them. Your doctor can recommend or prescribe a a book, but people can also self-refer and borrow them independently, if they prefer. You might choose to read the whole book, or to focus on the parts that seem most relevant to you. How well does it work? Take a trip to your local library to find out. While you are there, just think of the other places literature can take you; the experiences and places you might have never imagined but which now, you’ll never forget.


The Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme is delivered by The Reading Agency in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians, and funded by Arts Council England and the Wellcome Foundation. It is available in 97% of library authorities in England.


For more information on Reading Well Books on Prescription, Books on Prescription Dementia and also ‘Moodboosting Books’: visit the Reading Well website



Books on Prescription’s five most popular books:


The Worry Cure: Stop Worrying and Start Living by Robert L Leahy


Overcoming Depression and Low Mood: A Five Areas Approach by Chris Williams


Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Panic: A Five Areas Approach by Chris Williams


How to Stop Worrying by Frank Tallis


The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis