Reading for Wellbeing: How Books Can Benefit Our Mental Health


Books have the power to change lives.

Reading allows us to experience what it would be like to be living someone else life. It makes us more empathetic and understanding. It teaches us lessons about the world we live in by immersing us in worlds we don’t.

Reading allows us the opportunity to recognise ourselves in others. Our experiences, worries, dreams and flaws. It can make us feel heard, or help us solve problems within our own lives using the example of others.

Not only can we learn how to be the kind of human we want to be from books, but they can also help us to relax and switch off from our realities. Inhabiting the pages of a book for as little as half an hour a day allows us to switch off from the constant buzz of our thoughts. Reading can allow our stresses and worries to pass us by in much the same way that mindful meditation can.

With more and more people turning to the practise of ‘bibliotherapy’ as a way to care for their mental wellbeing, it is perhaps true now more than ever that ‘reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’. Organisations such as ReLit are researching the benefits of reading on stress and anxiety, whilst in Shropshire the world’s first Poetry Pharmacy has opened to provide literary antedotes to emotional ailments. (If you can’t make it to Shropshire don’t worry! The Poetry Pharmacy Anthology is the perfect home remedy instead). It is a testemant to the written word that we are continuing to look to literature for guidance even in an age ruled by smart phones and the internet.

The positive impact that reading can have on our mental health is something that I have long been interested in. I find reading to be a great way for me to relax and shut off from the diluge of static noise that fills my head throughout the day. Whilst reading is by no means a stand-alone solution to mental illness, for some it can provide respite and comfort when it is most needed.

This weekend the news of Caroline Flack’s tragic suicide broke across the UK. This raised questions about the impact the media can have on the lives of those in the spotlight, and the stigma that still exists when it comes to talking about our mental health. From the dark cloud that this news threw over the country, two bookshops and a group of readers shone through.

The Big Green Bookshop and Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford received hundreds of donations from readers after offering to send a copy of Matt Haig’s memoir Reasons to Stay Alive out to anyone who felt they needed it.

Hundreds of people came forward to explain what Haig’s book meant to them and in some cases how it had saved the lives of those suffering from mental illness.

This tiny kernal of light has come out of a tragic and heart-breaking suicide, but truly does attest to the power of books and the fact that you are never truly alone; there are always people out there who understand what you are going through and are willing to help.

In the wake of Caroline Flack’s death and the outpour of love from the bookish community from those suffering, I decided to share the books that I have found comfort in during my own mental health journey.

Some of these titles deal practically with mental health, some contained the representation that I felt I needed to see and others simply felt like a hug when I needed it most. During a time when more people than ever are struggling with their mental health, we must remember that there are always books. 

Reading for Wellbeing: How Books Can Benefit Our Mental Health
— Read on

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