On World Mental Health Day, our Director of Research and Strategy Debbie Hicks talks about how libraries can help to improve health and well-being.
Massive need for support
There has been a major step change in the way in which public libraries are helping to improve the health and well-being of local people.
There can be no doubt about the massive need for new support in this area. There are up to 6 million people in England who experience the crippling effects of anxiety and depression, three quarters of whom receive no treatment (LSE, 2012). One in four people with mental ill health in any one year is a familiar statistic, but the harsh reality is that poor mental health ruins lives.
Libraries can help. Recent research shows that they are the trusted place to go for health support (MLA, 2010) and that public library staff are second only to doctors in terms of the trust placed in them (SCL, 2012). They provide non-stigmatised community space, skilled staff and assisted on-line access, and they can reach out to vulnerable people.
The role of libraries
Libraries help people help themselves by providing accredited health information, health signposting, reading programmes promoting learning and literacy, social activity such as reading groups, and volunteering opportunities that keep people active and engaged. The work that The Reading Agency has been doing with the Society of Chief Librarians on a new strategy for libraries' health work is making it easier for the sector to work together to promote this offer to partners and the public.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the collective support shown by libraries for World Mental Health Day on 10 October and the range of activities that are being planned. Cambridgeshire library service are focusing on mental health with writer and poet John Killick, Cornwall will be hosting a Memory Café Open Day at Fowey Library, and international rugby referee Nigel Owens will be supporting various mental health-themed events in Welsh libraries.
Reading Well Books on Prescription launches
October will also see a second wave of Reading Well Books on Prescription launches with events in Leicestershire, Stockton and Sandwell. This new pan-England scheme is providing accredited self-help reading to help with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Early evidence shows that it's got off to a great start, with interest from over 1,600 prescribing partners including GPs.
It has also lit a fuse with the public. There's been a huge hike in Reading Well Books on Prescription core booklist loans. Public Lending Right data shows that in the first month of the scheme loans of titles on the core list increased by 145%, while some titles increased by over 250%. First quarter statistics indicate that the scheme has reached over 100,000 people. The most popular titles are Overcoming Anxiety: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques by Helen Kennerley, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky.
There's a lot of work to be done to embed this scheme but there can be no doubt it's having a real impact.
Gill Taft Warwickshire has suffered with depression and anxiety for decades and has recently tried bibliotherapy. She says, "I've worried for so many years about why I get depression and anxiety but I've never had anyone really explain it to me before. The books have helped me so much in understanding things like what can bring on a panic attack, and why it makes me feel the way it does."
Search for World Mental Health Day events and Books on Prescription launches at your local library on our events page.
This World Mental Health Day we want to know which books pick you up when you're feeling down - tell us your Mood-boosting Books on twitter using the #moodboosting hashtag or via email.
Read Gill's full case study about how borrowing books from the library helped her to understand and manage her depression.