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Reading Well to support your mental health

For World Book Day, our latest guest blog is written by Annie Robinson who is the Programme Manager for Reading and Health at The Reading Agency

It’s long been accepted that reading is good for our minds: helping us to learn new things, visit new worlds and discover new experiences. At The Reading Agency, we want people to know that reading is also good for our mental health.

Studies show regular readers for pleasure report fewer feelings of stress and depression, and that reading creates stronger feelings of relaxation than watching television or engaging with technology intensive activities.

We also know that there can be a lot of information and misinformation about mental health out there, and this can be overwhelming.

This is why we teamed up with public libraries to create Reading Well, a national programme recommending the best books to support wellbeing. We bring children and young people together with health experts, including CAHMS professionals, GPs and nurses to select recommended reading for primary and secondary schools.  

Gaby, one of the young advisors who worked with us on our book selection, said, "Reading can be a form of self-care, to complement other mental health services. It can bridge a gap, especially with waiting times for some mental health services."

During the selection process, we found that what adults often think of as suitable for children and young people can be very different to what children and young people actually want. Getting everyone’s voices together to select the titles can be a complex task but we’re really pleased with the high-quality resources we’ve been able to create.  

Reading Well booklists offer information, advice and stories to support self-care. There’s everything from graphic novels and non-fiction, to novels and poetry to ensure there’s something for everyone. The books are available free to borrow from libraries; you could be recommended a book by a GP, teacher or carer, or you could choose a book yourself that you think might be helpful.

The topics that came out during our book selection as relevant to children and young people included anxiety, bullying, grief and staying safe online. To recognise the impact which living with diagnosed conditions and physical disabilities can have, the booklists also explore living well with conditions including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), dyslexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and physical disabilities.

We know Reading Well works – in our 2019 evaluation, 100% of young people surveyed would recommend their book to a friend. So far, 1.2 million readers have borrowed over 2.3 million Reading Well books from libraries. Regularly reading for pleasure has been shown to boost self-esteem, give a greater ability to cope with difficult situations, and improve sleeping patterns.

As one of our readers explained, “I just got more confident with that, from reading the book [Self-Esteem and Being You] and from being able to understand, like, how to speak about it and how to deal with it.”

Because of its impact, the programme has been recognised by expert organisations, including the Royal Society for Public Health, for its contribution to public mental health and wellbeing.

You can visit our website to browse the full booklists or head to your local library to borrow a book today.

Books and reading is one of 90  self-care strategies on the Anna Freud Centre’s self-care page.

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life's big challenges through the proven power of reading. They work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England. 

Photo © Martin Salter for The Reading Agency with thanks to Redbridge Central Library and Cleveland Road Primary School.