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Improving health and digital literacy in East London with Reading Well

On the occasion of Health Information Week 2019, we bring you a best practice example of an NHS library initiative to promote health and digital literacy through Reading Well in Redbridge, East London.

Health literacy means more than just the ability to read and understand health-related information: it also includes the confidence to navigate healthcare services and manage self-care. Improving health literacy levels can enhance patient outcomes and save money.

Health Literacy Project at Aubrey Keep Library

Aubrey Keep Library – a health library within North-East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) – is currently running a pilot Health Literacy Project to promote health-literate high streets through engagement with local communities as well as NELFT staff.

As part of this project, Aubrey Keep Library has partnered with local Redbridge and Havering public libraries to hold drop-in sessions to signpost patrons to digital and print sources of health information – including the Reading Well collections. Click here to find out more about this collaboration.

Other strands of the Health Literacy Project have focused on the Reading Well for young people, or Shelf Help, booklist in particular. This has included workshops in a local school on identifying fake health news, and a reading group with NEFLT’s Emotional Wellbeing Mental Health Service (EWMHS) for children and young people.

Read on to find out more about these projects from the young people and health professionals involved!

Shelf Help reading group

In November 2018, two staff members (a youth offending worker and a peer participation worker) from an EWMHS service contacted the Aubrey Keep Library for advice on sourcing books for a planned read-and-review group for young people in the service. The library suggested the Shelf Help booklist as an evidence-based solution with a ready-made list of titles, ordered a set of the books and sent them over to EWMHS to use, along with leaflets, posters and book jacket composites.

Seven months later, the uptake of Shelf Help is a continuing success, with two further groups proposed in additional CAMHS services in the borough and potential connections with local schools keen to acquire their own ‘Mental Health Shelf’ for teachers and students.

“We used the laminated covers in the reception area, we did the wall display, and then when the young people read the books, they wrote a little description of what they found helpful about the books, so people in the future coming in could look at the display, and look at the review from the young person next to the book, and hopefully find it helpful and go and use that book.”EWMHS worker

“The feedback from young people and parents on the display and everything else has been fantastic”EWMHS worker

Case study 1: Stuff That Sucks

"In my role I work with young offenders, and I worked with a young man who unfortunately at the age of 4 his mum passed away, and he lived with very elderly grandparents, and his reading and writing wasn’t that great. And I looked at the Stuff That Sucks book and I thought it was really beautifully written and quite easy to follow. And I suggested one day, How about I read it to you? So every session we had, we’d have a little bit of time talking about obviously where he was with his mental health and everything else, and then we’d sit and go OK, Jackanory Time, and I’d spend half an hour reading him this book. And it was one of those moments that I sat there and I thought, Well, with his mum passing away at that young age, it’s [being read aloud to] is probably something that he’s never experienced […] this was a young man that was disengaged with the service […] but we did have about 5 sessions in a row where he would make sure that he turned up for every single session and we’d read the book together and he would sit there and he would suddenly say, Oh yeah, I get that! Yes, that’s me! I really understand it! […] He was 16 years old and I think he could really understand the book and where it was coming from.”EWMHS worker

Case study 2: The Reason I Jump

"A mum whose son had recently been diagnosed with autism, when she was in the waiting room, she was looking at the board, and I think The Reason I Jump actually had a review from a young person. And she went off to the local library and borrowed it and the feedback was that it really helped her to understand some of his quirks or some of the reasons behind why he did something, and she said if the display hadn’t been there, she probably would never have heard of the book, so she was really pleased that it was there for her to be able to read the book.”EWMHS worker

Case study 3: Shelf Help at School – Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

"One month we decided we were going to have a young person’s display board, for Book of the Month, chosen by the young people each month and we’d refresh it so we were taking one of these [laminated covers] off the wall and making it Book of the Month. I think the first one we did was Stuff That Sucks. That was the first Book of the Month. So we were doing a display that the young people in peer participation could make theirs, so getting involved […] And then the impact from this is rolling it out more, into London schools and working with the [outreach] workers, for them to talk about Shelf Help in schools, and talking to schools about maybe getting a Mental Health Shelf at school and using those books as recommended. And then there’s also the health literacy and how that’s coming together too. So I think it started as a base, and now obviously all these things have built up on top of it.”EWMHS worker

Combatting fake health news

Thanks to Aubrey Keep Library’s links with EWMHS and CAMHS workers, they were also able to take Shelf Help into a local comprehensive school. CAMHS workers spoke to teachers, and Health Library Project Manager Catherine Jenkins and other library staff ran workshops on health literacy and how to spot fake health news with pupils in Years 7, 8, 9 and Sixth Form. The Shelf Help booklist was promoted and a copy of the leaflet given to each pupil to take home. Feedback from pupils on the sessions was collected on Post-Its (pictured above).

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