Bibliotherapy: Why the NHS is prescribing books to help with mental health

books mental health
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're struggling with your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, books can be an incredibly useful tool.

We already knew that reading books can be very beneficial to our wellbeing as they helps us to slow down and unwind, but now new research is making us want to read even more.

Turns out that reading “challenging language” sends “rocket boosters” to our brains, according to new research from Oxford University Press.

This boosts our mental health, something much needed during odd times like we're living nowadays.

NHS's Reading Well programme

The NHS has even started to acknowledge the benefits of reading, and supports website Reading Well.

According to the site, 'Reading Well supports you to understand and manage your health and wellbeing using helpful reading.

'The books are all recommended by health experts, as well as people with living with the conditions covered and their relatives and carers.'

The list includes self-help books on anxiety, depression, living with disabilities and dementia - the list goes on.

They also have another list of 'Mood-boosting Books' - which includes titles like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and poem collection The Sun and Her Flowers.

Why does reading have such a positive impact on our brains?

Dr Paula Byrne is anauthor and founder ofReLit, a charity which promotes reading for mental health.

Paula and her colleagues currently run workshops in schools, prisons and halfway houses and they even host a week-long bibliotherapy summer school which is open to all.

If you've never heard of bibliotherapy, Paula has explained why it can be a useful way to practice self care and manage our mental health.

Speaking to Stylist, Paula explains,"Bibliotherapy, quite simply, is about books as therapy. It’s not meant to take the place of medicine, but it can complement it.

"It’s actually a reinvention of a traditional idea. The ancient Greeks used poetry as therapy and Queen Victoria drew comfort from the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson when her husband, Prince Albert, died.

books mental health

Read more: Woman&Home’s edit of the best books to read this year

“Books can take you to a different place. They can relax you and calm you, and they can offer wisdom, or humour, or both.”

And it's not just Paula who advocates reading, as several studies have shown the benefits of bibliotherapy.

One 2013 study published in the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy examined 96 patients with mild depression.

It found that those who were given a book to read saw an improvement in depressive symptoms, compared to those who didn’t receive any bibliotherapy treatment.

A study from The New School for Social Research, New York found that reading fiction can improve our ability to empathise and understand that other people hold different beliefs and desires to our own, which is a very useful skill.

Sounds good to us! You'll find us somewhere inside with a good book...

Lucy Buglass is a Digital Writer specialising in TV, film and lifestyle content and has written for What's On TV, GoodtoKnow and She's passionate about entertainment and spends most of her free time watching Netflix series, BBC dramas, or going to the cinema to catch the latest film releases. In her spare time, she writes film and television reviews for JumpCut Online and her own blog, Lucy Goes To Hollywood.