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Books can be the best medicine: A new chapter for mental health prescriptions in Wales

From this week (26 June), health professionals in Wales will be able to prescribe free library books to assist people in managing their mental health or dealing with difficult feelings and experiences in what experts behind the scheme are calling ‘bibliotherapy’. 

The Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health scheme has been developed by The Reading Agency and public libraries, leading health organisations including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Nursing, as well as individuals who have personal experience of mental health needs and their relatives and carers.
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The scheme is being launched in Wales following its success in England which has seen 931,000 people borrow over 2 million Reading Well books from public libraries.

Debbie Hicks, The Reading Agency’s Creative Director, said: “One in four of us will face a mental health issue at some point in our lives. Reading has proven power to help people manage their own mental health and wellbeing. We are delighted to be launching this life-changing programme in Wales, with many of the books available in Welsh for the first time, enabling the scheme to reach even more people.”

Free copies of the books will be available to members of the public to borrow from all 22 public library authorities in Wales from 26 June, as well as supporting promotional material including leaflets containing the booklist. The Reading Agency is working with Welsh Books Council to translate most of the books into Welsh and all programme materials are bilingual. The books can be recommended by a health professional and borrowed free of charge from a local library, or users can self-refer and borrow the titles as they would any other library book.

Professor Neil Frude, a consultant clinical psychologist and founder of the original Book Prescription Wales initiative, said: “Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health in Wales is a useful and highly cost-effective additional resource for providing psychological help for many people across the principality. It is estimated that there are currently over 400,000 adults in Wales with a diagnosable mental condition. Thankfully there are several highly effective ways of delivering psychological help, including the use of self-help books written by expert clinicians, otherwise known as ‘bibliotherapy’.

“The beauty of this scheme is that it recommends the very best books and delivers them freely through the public library service. In this way the scheme has the added benefit of bringing more people into the library, that precious community asset, where they will find many other resources that can help to boost their wellbeing, to build resilience and to thrive.”

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The collection of 37 books includes health information, self-help and inspirational personal stories such as Reasons to Stay Alive by award-winning author Matt Haig, which explores his personal experience of coming close to committing suicide at the age of 24, and The Recovery Letters, an anthology of heartfelt letters written by people who have recovered or are recovering from depression.

Author Malan Wilkinson from Criccieth, North Wales, and ambassador for Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health said: ”It’s been a year since I wrote my book about living with a mental health condition and it is true to say that reading and writing about my experiences has been invaluable for my own health. After six years of living with mental health problems, it’s wonderful to see this scheme being launched in Wales. Having this collection of 37 self-help books will be of great assistance to people across the country.”

Ainsley Bladon, Mental Health Strategy Lead at Welsh Government, said: “The Reading Well scheme, funded by Welsh Government, presents a wonderful opportunity in Wales – to continue the legacy of our Book Prescription Wales scheme, to empower individuals to manage their own wellbeing using public health approaches, and, uniquely, to offer a full range of Welsh language titles in our libraries, representing the biggest ever translation project undertaken in Wales.”

Nic Pitman at SCL Cymru said: “Public Libraries are vital community hubs for health and wellbeing support, and this list of expert-endorsed titles is another way we can support public health in Wales. SCL Cymru is enormously excited to work with The Reading Agency to deliver this programme that has been widely endorsed by health professionals as part of our drive to promote good mental health.”

The scheme aims to make health information publications more readily available to members of the public. Reading Well Books on Prescription in Wales has been launched by The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians Cymru and is funded by the Welsh Government.

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