Gaby Clements is a student and activist with mental health charities Young Minds and Youth Access. She has been a passionate ambassador for the benefits of reading to improve mental health, including helping to curate the Reading Well for young people booklist.
Bridging a gap to mental health services
"Reading can be a form of self-care, to complement other mental health services", Gaby explains. "It can bridge a gap, especially with waiting times for some mental health services."
Gaby played a key role in the early phases of the Reading Well scheme for young people, also known as Shelf Help. The scheme provides a reading list for young people who may be experiencing problems with mental health. Gaby worked alongside a panel including leading experts in children's and young people's mental health and other young people with lived experience to help to curate the reading list. "We'd spread the books out across our advisory group to review," she says. "We'd work up different scales to measure them by, such as how appropriate they are for helping with a particular issue." This meant the final booklist had been vetted by the target audience. "What adults think of as suitable for young people, and what young people actually think, are often very different!" Gaby says.
"Fiction is important... we can relate to the characters in the stories"
Some books were dropped because they risked making young people feel worse, not better. "We definitely didn't want the books to be triggering for some," Gaby adds. "For example, some books on bullying could end up being too close to home. I know that's kind of the point, but at the same time you don't want it to be detrimental to the wellbeing of vulnerable people."
Gaby believes reading schemes like Reading Well can be powerful tools for others to manage issues with their mental health. "I think it's about boosting emotional intelligence. Especially for teenagers, which can be an awful time for some, it helps with ideas, thoughts they're having, whatever they've got going on." The scheme includes self-help books for supporting mental health and wellbeing, but the curators were adamant that it should not be limited to that. "In our first meeting we were all asked to bring a book we thought would be helpful for wellbeing," Gaby recalls. "We all brought a fictional book. It seems like fiction is important for mental health. We can relate to the characters in the stories. When it's in the first person, it's like you're the character. Those characters' perspectives can be an advice mechanism."
Taking the pressure off
Gaby has continued to promote causes supporting young people and their mental health. "We had a recent campaign about self-care and reading comes up a lot," she says. "People don't seem to think too much about reading in that context of self-help, but there are so many benefits. We should be promoting it more as a hobby."
Over time, she hopes that many more people will come to realise the value of reading for mental health. "One of the most important things about it is how personal it is," Gaby says. "You can feel in control of reading, you choose how much you read and how fast you go. I think that's quite valuable for mental health as you can take what you need from it. There's no pressure."
Visit the Reading Well website for more information on the scheme
Browse the Reading Well Mood-boosting books list for 2018