Books and Wellbeing
Reading is one of my great pleasures and part of that joy comes from the ability to lose myself when reading a novel in someone else’s perspective and to learn and grow when reading nonfiction. Books have long been associated with wellbeing, an inscription found above the door to an ancient Greek library entrance called it a place of ‘healing for the soul’. In more recent times psychology and literature have been blended together to provide benefits to good health in the form of Bibliotherapy. The idea that books and reading can help make people feel better is no surprise to people who read regularly and it seems obvious that libraries are well placed to support initiatives using this approach.
The McPin Foundation, (a specialist mental health research charity) have been evaluating a successful library-based project to address loneliness in Suffolk. The Open Space groups are co-facilitated by a partnership of Suffolk Libraries, NSFT (Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust), Julian Support, Richmond Fellowship and Suffolk Mind. The findings so far, suggest that the sessions have had real benefits for people experiencing loneliness and mental health difficulties by raising awareness, providing opportunities for community interactions and signposting to other appropriate services.
The charity Reading Well supports people to use reading in order to live well and maintain their health. The books that are recommended are all chosen and endorsed by health professionals, as well as by people living with the experiences explored – as well as by their relatives and carers. Within this umbrella organisation are specific initiatives, one that caught my eye was "The Fresh List" devised by students at the University of Exeter.
September is soon approaching and with it a new cohort of first year university students will arrive to take up their places in academic institutions everywhere. Some will be better prepared to cope than others and in any case leaving home and living independently can be stressful for anyone. Current students recognised the pressure of this transition and drew on their own experiences to create a reading list for students. It comprises of twelve books, supported with information collected through a student survey to help new starters thrive.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have conducted reviews which found that self-help books can help people understand and manage common conditions and as you would expect our library has some good options on fitness, good food, wellbeing and mental health. ‘The Tiredness Cure’ by Dr Sohere Roked (613) is an interesting read for anyone who has that permanent state of tiredness that permeates many Londoners! It has chapters on the different causes of tiredness and takes a holistic and practical view of solutions ... fair warning it also has some stomach churning information on milk production that may push you into the soy milk isle for ever!
A Beginners Guide to Being Mental by Natasha Devon (616.89) is a brilliant overview of mental health, funny irreverent and divided into small readable sections organised alphabetically. It covers everything from services and interventions to special populations - gender, sexuality, young people to more general wellbeing issues like mindfulness and sleep. How to deal with stress by Stephen Palmer and Cary Cooper (616.98) offers a step by step guide to improving your wellbeing using CBT techniques and Dr Juliet McGrattan’s book ‘Sorted - The Active Women’s Guide to Health’ (613.04244) covers everything from pregnancy to menopause. It stands out by offering accessible, wise advice on living well in a female body.
Plato described the arts as a gift to bring our souls back in to balance and DH Lawrence wrote that we ‘shed our sickness’ in books. If the ‘day to day’ is getting you down, schedule a stop into your library as part of your self-care and see the benefits for yourself.
The community of books
It’s strange that reading a book is such an intensely personal activity, yet talking about a book you love can unite complete strangers in an instant (remember to check the library notice boards for groups that meet in the library).
If you are reading this blog you are no doubt already aware of the ways in which technology and reading can interact. Kindles and other devices have changed the way that we consume books, and increasingly library services are available online. You can search and reserve books from your bed and be notified when to go and collect them. In addition there are also books in the library that can help you brush up on your online skills and access fellow book lovers who proliferate on social media.
When I picked up Jim Gatenby’s ‘Online security for the older generation’ (005.8) I thought it was rather basic until I realised that I didn’t know how to work the private browsing window on my iPad and swiftly changed my mind. I'm not sure if this means I’m now officially old or just that everyone needs to keep updated around online safety!
A great example of a book supporting social media use is Roger Laing’s ‘iPad made Easy’ (004.1675). It is well laid out and when you are flicking back and forth from a screen to the printed page when you are following instructions this makes a world of difference. The book is divided up into sections targeted on the activities you might want to learn how to do ... for example listening to music, watching tv, contacting friends etc. I appreciated the fact that it emphasised the possibility to create, as well as consume culture... there are helpful sections on making music and taking pictures.
I’m not predisposed to like books that assume I’m an idiot... but the ‘Internet for Dummies’ by John Levine and Margaret Levine Young (004.678) is an exception. This book has excellent advice for interacting online and everyone should read it before signing up to online message boards. I chuckled my way through the advice on the ‘how to avoid looking like a dimwit’ section. Sections on safe online shopping, accessing the art galleries of the world, engaging with citizen science projects or giving back by online mentoring offer positive uses for social media which is an often derided part of modern life.
In terms of social media and reading, Instagram has a plethora of accounts that will bring you news of books that you can request. Children’s books which are often so beautifully illustrated look fabulous on this platform, see thepicturebookpost or childrenslibrarylady for reading recommendations and child friendly activities.
Specialist bookshops are another great way to enrich your reading lists. Try persephonebooks who publish beautiful editions from 20th century women writers, londonbookarts for art publications or dauntbooks for an independent take on the world of literature.
If you like a podcast thebookstorepodcast is a must if only for their tagline ‘it’s like a book club, but we actually read the book’.
The GuardianBookspodcast is a weekly roundup that will keep you up to date and, lastly, don’t forget that Twitter isn’t just for shouting at strangers! You can connect to your local community, celebrate books and libraries and act to ensure that the joy of reading is accessible to all - and of course you could follow @FoWHLNW6 to stay in touch with what is happening in the real world!
The @NetworkLibrary and @WELBooks give local community perspectives. @WorldBookDayUK and @WorldBookNight celebrate books and reading and you could try @ReadingAgency, @DoorstepLib and @LibTaskforce to support libraries as the vital resource they are for us all.
Have you any recommendations for online book lovers? If you do, tweet @FoWHLNW6 and let us know.
TO READ NICKY'S RECENT BLOGS CLICK HERE
Nicky Lambert is FoWHL’s third Writer in Residence, and like her predecessors she is a big fan of libraries. After studying History and English, Nicky qualified as a mental health nurse, and is now an Associate Professor and Director of Teaching and Learning Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex University in Hendon. She has been a member of West Hampstead Library since moving here 2011 and tweets about mental health and wellbeing under the name @niadla
TO READ NICKY'S RECENT BLOGS CLICK HERE