Since Reading Well Books on Prescription launched in June 2013 the programme has received a lot of attention from readers, health professionals and the media. Debbie Hicks, our Director of Research, recently gave a speech to the Royal College of Nursing. Here is an extract.
Accessing well-being through reading
There's no doubt about the versatility and effectiveness of reading as a tool to support health and well-being. Reading gives you access to a range of book-based therapy, from formal self-help books to stress-busting novels and poetry that take you off to another world, and to supportive social reading communities. Getting involved in a reading group brings people together, builds social connections that are vital to well-being and enables you to explore difficult life experiences through a fictional lens - you live many lives through reading, including your own.
Public libraries are the key physical and virtual gateway to reading. Since June 2013, Reading Well Books on Prescription has been run through public libraries. It's a really powerful programme making reading and libraries a winning health and well-being combination.
We've been working with the Society of Chief Librarians on a strategy to promote the health and well-being services that libraries offer. The Universal Health Offer builds on the enormous potential of libraries to support well-being: they are non-stigmatised community spaces, providing outreach to vulnerable communities out of reach to other agencies, assisted digital services and a workforce in tune with local communities.
The services offered by libraries are also unrivalled - they include health information and signposting, national reading programmes such as the clinical Books on Prescription, crowd-sourced Mood-boosting Books and programmes such as the Six Book Challenge that give health-boosting opportunities for creativity and learning. And there's social and recreational activities such as reading groups and volunteering opportunities to keep people active and engaged. What other community agency could offer this range of health and well-being support?
There can be no doubt of the need for such support particularly when it comes to mental health. Traditional services are creaking under the pressure of increased demand. The statistics are familiar but devastating - 1 in 4 people experience mental ill health in any one year, around 6 million people have anxiety and depression, three quarters of whom are not receiving formal help. The reality is that poor mental health ruins lives.
Libraries are part of the solution, offering early intervention community health services such as Reading Well Books on Prescription as part of the new public health commissioning landscape.
We're about to produce first-year evaluation data, but early signs are promising. There's a growing prescriber base including GPs and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. People are also borrowing the books with 100,000 loans in the first 3 months, an uplift of 145% on previous issues. It's also working for individuals who have used the programme. As Gill Taft says, "now if I'm having a bad day I drop into the library and pick up a book."
We're only at the beginning of an exciting journey. Commissioned by the Society of Chief Librarians with funding from ACE, we're working on a public library dementia scheme which will include both expert-endorsed Books on Prescription and Mood-boosting Books recommended by people with dementia and their carers. We're also planning Reading Well Books on Prescription lists for children and young people's mental health, long term conditions and a refresh of the adult mental health list.
Read more about how Books on Prescription helped Gill Taft understand and tackle her mental illness.
Find out more about our plans for Reading Well for dementia.