On World Mental Health Day, public health professional Tracey Polak explains how public library services are working with national and local bodies to help people cope with common mental health conditions.
Thank you to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) for permission to publish this blog which is also available on the CILIP website.
Reading Well Books on Prescription was launched in 2013 to provide accredited self-help reading from public libraries for common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. It is the first national Books on Prescription scheme for England and important part of the Society of Chief Librarians' Universal Health Offer.
Run by The Reading Agency working in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians, the scheme is supported by national health bodies such as the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Royal College of Nursing, as well as NHS England's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme (IAPT).
It is co-ordinated locally by the relevant library authority who stock the core list of 30 accredited titles and user information leaflets, working with health partners including public health, GPs and local IAPT teams. Health professionals can prescribe titles before, during or post treatment but the scheme can also be used on a self-referral basis, as a first step in seeking help.
Impact of the scheme
First-year evaluation data tells a powerful impact story:
- The scheme has reached 275,000 people with accredited self-help reading: 0.7% of the adult population of England
- Book loans of core list titles have increased by 113%
- While it is being used regularly by around 7,000 health professionals, 80% of service users sampled self-referred, often by picking up a leaflet in the library.
There is also evidence of significant patient benefit. Of service users surveyed:
- 91% said that the book they had read had been helpful
- 79% that it had helped them understand more about their condition
- 73% said it had made them feel more confident about managing symptoms
- 37% said that symptoms had reduced or got better.
View from Devon
Public Health in Devon has been keen to support the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme, as it seemed an effective way to reach the population over a largely rural geographic area. The scheme appealed to the principles of Public Health due to its evidence base and the continuation of evaluation that was taking place. It also met an identified need of addressing public mental health.
The public health and library service worked together to establish how the impact might be evaluated locally. Using the data collected for the Reading Well scheme and linking this to other data sources it has been possible to compare uptake of the scheme and known prevalence of some common mental health conditions.
The loan rate (at district) was compared to both the Quality outcome Framework (QoF) prevalence for depression and the contact rate with the local mental health provider. There was a correlation seen in graph 1 which shows that where the prevalence of depression is known to be higher, there was a higher loan rate of the Reading Well titles. There was also a smaller correlation between the higher rates of contacts with the mental health services and the loan rate of the Reading Well titles.
Further breakdown needs to be completed on the data but the initial impression is very positive, and suggests that where need is greatest there is a corresponding greater uptake of the scheme. When the data is compared at town level this pattern is generally seen, with some exceptions. Where these exceptions exist further efforts to promote the scheme, review access etc will be targeted this year by the public health team.
The correlation seen between need and uptake is promising and Devon Public Health is continuing to support Reading Well Books on Prescription with the new list focusing on dementia. This fits extremely well with the demographics of the county with its older than average age population.
Reading Well Books on Prescription has been a significant new health service intervention by public libraries, opening up new partnerships for libraries and delivering real benefits to local communities. It has also created a firm platform on which to build new developments such as Reading Well Books on Prescription for dementia, to be launched in libraries in January 2015.
About the author
Tracey Polak is Assistant Director of Public Health at Devon County Council. Tracey qualified as a nurse and health visitor. She has experience as a lecturer in health studies and has worked as a consultant in public health.
How else can library and information services support health and wellbeing? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter using #readingwell or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about Reading Well Books on Prescription.
Find out about World Mental Health Day and the Society of Chief Librarians' Universal Offers.