Mental health bibliotherapy comes home to Wales

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In this guest post, Professor Neil Frude, clinical psychologist & founder of the original books on prescription initiative in Wales, tells the story of the inception of Reading Well and our plans for launching our mental health list in Wales in 2019.

The Welsh roots of Reading Well

The Cardiff Books on Prescription scheme began in 2003, and its immediate success led the Welsh Assembly Government to launch Book Prescription Wales just two years later. These schemes aimed to help people facing mental health difficulties to understand, manage and treat their condition through the use of high quality self-help books that had been specially selected by mental health professionals. Books on the list were available in all public libraries covered by the scheme and the books could be prescribed by GPs and other health professionals.

‘Therapy by the book’ is known as bibliotherapy, and in terms of availability and effectiveness, both emotional and financial, it makes a lot of sense. Following the Welsh initiative, this was widely recognised and similar schemes were soon launched by health providers and libraries across the UK and beyond.

Establishing a national scheme

A 2010 survey showed that around 100 ‘books on prescription’ schemes were operating in England at that time, each with its own booklist and particular way of operating. The advantages of coordinating efforts and establishing a national scheme were obvious, and The Reading Agency devised a plan for implementing an all-England scheme. This was supported by Wellcome, Arts Council England and the sector support organisation Libraries Connected, and Reading Well now has a wide range of key partners including leading charities and professional bodies such as the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Psychological Society. It also now constitutes a key ingredient of the Universal Health Offer for public libraries, coordinated by The Reading Agency in partnership with Libraries Connected.

The first Reading Well scheme focused on adult mental health conditions and was launched in 2013. This was soon followed by schemes focusing on dementia, young people’s mental health and long term conditions. Since the launch of the initial scheme, over 2 million books on the lists have been borrowed from public libraries in England, and independent annual evaluations of the schemes indicate that users report finding the books very helpful.

Books on prescription is coming home

In 2018, the Welsh Government made the decision to strengthen its support for the books on prescription strategy and enlisted the services of The Reading Agency to help with this. Reading Well Books on Prescription for dementia in Wales, or Darllen Yn Well, was launched in July 2018. In June 2019, Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health will be launched and, as with the dementia scheme, books on the list are being specially translated into Welsh with the help of the Welsh Books Council.

The inclusion of books in Welsh is not the only difference between the new list and the original list launched in Cardiff over 15 years ago: it now includes selected memoirs and fiction as well as self-help books, and was compiled following a painstaking and highly structured process which drew upon the expertise not only of mental health professionals but also of experts by experience – people whose lives have been directly affected by mental health issues. Libraries are encouraged to display the books prominently to encourage readers to ‘prescribe’ for themselves from a selection of expert-endorsed titles, as well as being able to access the book collection following a prescription from a health professional.

So, summer 2019 will see the mental health books on prescription strategy returning to its original ‘home’ in Wales. It will return in a somewhat different form, having evolved and matured considerably, and now with a wealth of additional evidence for the effectiveness and wide applicability of the simple books on prescription idea. We hope that health and library professionals and the public will see the value of the scheme, welcome it back home, promote it and use it enthusiastically!

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