What is Reading Well?

 

Reading Well is a national books on prescription programme, delivered through public libraries, that helps people to understand and manage their health using quality endorsed reading. Recommended books can be ‘prescribed’ by GPs and other health professionals but are also available on the open shelves for anyone to borrow. This innovative reading and health programme is delivered by national charity The Reading Agency in partnership with Libraries Connected (formerly the Society of Chief Librarians) supported with funding from Arts Council England and Wellcome.

On 5 June 2018 a ‘life-saving’ new reading list, Reading Well for mental health, launched at a flagship event at the Wellcome Trust in London, headlined by author Matt Haig, who said, Reading Well is an absolutely brilliant scheme that recognises the true proven therapeutic power of words. It will help people facing mental struggles to feel understood, and to get help. This scheme will improve, and maybe even save, many lives. 

But the story doesn’t start with the launch of this new list. We’ve been on a journey since 2013 when we put together our first Reading Well scheme, which focused on common mental health conditions. At first, many health professionals were sceptical, despite the amazing work that had already happened in Wales, where the books on prescription model was developed. They need not have been: five years on, Reading Well now has a full complement of endorsing health partners and four schemes on the library shelves. There is also a robust evidence base that now demonstrates the power of reading to improve health and wellbeing. Alongside the newly launched Reading Well for mental health list, there are quality assured booklists providing helpful reading about dementia, young people’s mental health and the physical and mental symptoms of common long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

When we started out five years ago, the focus was very much on book-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, known as CBT, but a new and very different Reading Well for mental health list has just hit the library shelves, featuring thirty-seven brilliant books by bestselling and highly regarded authors. CBT still plays an important role, but the scope has widened to include other evidence based therapies such as mindfulness. There are self-help books for common conditions such as anxiety and depression, books providing tips and techniques for managing common feelings such as low self-esteem, books to help with challenging experiences such as bereavement, and books providing real life stories of people living with or caring for someone with a mental health need. The books are available in a range of formats including e-books, workbooks and picture books.

There is something for everyone, including less confident readers. Titles to choose from include Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, Cathy Rentzenbrink’s A Manual for Heartache, Sathnam Sanghera’s The Boy with the Topknot, and Ruby Wax’s A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, as well as books by leading mental health professionals such as Professor Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World and Matthew Johnstone’s illustrated book for carers, Living with a Black Dog. All are quality assured, evidence based and endorsed by experts, by profession and with lived experience. Google self-help for depression and you get over half a million options, but check out a Reading Well title from the local library and you’ll know you’re being recommended the gold standard, tried and tested by experts.

 

Why do we need programmes like Reading Well?

 

The statistics tell us why. One in four people in the UK struggle with their mental health each year[1]; and one in six people every week in England.[2] Yet only one in eight adults with a mental health need is receiving treatment – that’s a significant treatment gap.[3] Poor mental health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK.[4] The impact of this is far reaching, both for the individuals affected as well as their family and friends. Mental health affects every aspect of life: relationships, education, work life and physical health. And the future looks bleak; by 2030, two million more adults will be struggling with their mental health than in 2013.[5]

Books and reading are not and can never be the only answer to this pressing need, but they can be part of the solution when delivered through quality assured programmes such as Reading Well, which is available in the safe and trusted community space of the public library. The research speaks for itself. Regular reading can reduce the risk of dementia by up to 35 per cent.[6] It is 68 per cent more effective at reducing stress levels than listening to music,[7] and it can even create new neural pathways in the brain. CBT self-help reading is endorsed by NICE clinical guidance. Our own evaluation data shows that Reading Well has harnessed this wellbeing power effectively, delivering massive reach to over three quarters of a million people so far, as well as creating real evidence of patient benefit. In a recent survey, 90 per cent of people who had borrowed a Reading Well book said that it had been helpful, and 68 per cent of people said that their symptoms had actually improved as a result of their reading.[8]

Reading Well works because every title meets the highest quality standard of a rigorous book selection process shaped by need, evidence and clinical guidance. It’s a process that’s endorsed by health professionals, with partners such as the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Public Health England and NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme involved in selecting books for the scheme. It’s also driven by genuine co-production principles. Through a key partnership with the Coalition for Collaborative Care we’ve worked closely with people with lived experience on book selection as well as the look, feel, design and language of the scheme. We’ve learned an enormous amount through this process about how to make Reading Well accessible, including the importance of personal stories as a way of guiding readers in.

At The Reading Agency, we know everything changes when we read. Our Reading Well partnership with libraries, health experts and people with lived experience drives a powerful health offer at public libraries that is delivering real benefits. Reading Well is more than just a booklist – it represents the power of reading to change lives.

 

Please visit www.reading-well.org.co.uk to find out more.


[1] Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey, The NHS Information Centre for health and social care (2009)

[2] Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital (2016)

[3] Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital (2016)

[4] The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, Mental Health Taskforce (2016)

[5] Starting today: The future of mental health services, The Mental Health Foundation (2013)

[6] Verghese, J. et al. (2003) Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, New England Journal of Medicine, Waltham: Massachusetts medical society,348:2508-16

[7] Galaxy Commissioned Stress Research, Mindlab International, Sussex University (2009)

[8] Reading Well Books on Prescription: Evaluation of Year 4 – 2016-2017, The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians (2017)

 

 

Photograph © bradleypjohnson

Ghillie’s Mum
The Swimmer