Does reading help sanity?

The Guardian:

Doctors usually send patients to the pharmacy to get medication, but family doctors in western England have been packing people off to the library with prescriptions for self-help books. Those with symptoms of depression, anxiety or eating disorders will be referred to clinics where they will be prescribed books to read alongside support sessions with graduate mental health care workers. The scheme in the county of Devon, which is the first of its kind in the UK, aims to cut waiting lists for more serious cases, reduce over-prescription of drugs and offer some form of treatment for patients who may otherwise receive none.

“This is needs driven,” said Paul Farrand, a senior lecturer in health psychology at Plymouth University, Devon, who developed the scheme. “Nine out of 10 people with mild or moderate depression do not receive any treatment at all. Others are put on long waiting lists or are given medication that may be unnecessary.” Farrand said the scheme was developed following recommendations in a government report, Self-help interventions for mental health problems. By the summer there will be 80 self-help clinics in Devon, all using books based on cognitive behavioural therapy.

“This is not for those with chronic problems,” said Farrand. “But it could reduce waiting lists for those patients to receive the treatment they desperately need.” Jan Ap-Thomas welcomes the move. The 53-year-old began suffering from severe depression 14 years ago. Overcoming Depression, by Professor Paul Gilbert, was one of the books recommended in the Devon scheme and played a large part in her recovery.

“A book doesn’t go on holiday or have bad days,” she said. “It is always there for you to pick up when you need it and for me it was my depression bible.” Jan used to cry all the time and would spend days in bed. She even started to lose interest in her three daughters. She was treated by Prof Gilbert while he wrote the book and has since used the book regularly.

“The best thing about these books are they are full of case studies that make you realise you are not alone,” she said. “Depression means you feel extremely isolated. (The books) also remove the stigma as you can do it in the privacy of your home. For me, the antidepressants stopped working but the book did not and it meant I was making myself better instead of relying on someone else.”

She now enjoys life again and is planning a holiday abroad with her family, something she would never have done before.

Dr Richard Byng, a general practitioner based in Devon, with a special interest in mental health, will be referring patients to the scheme. “Anything that can broaden the options that GPs have is a good thing,” he said. “There is good evidence to support the use of books and the graduate workers will help motivation.” The chosen books aim to help those suffering from depression, anxiety, bereavement and eating disorders, as well as victims of child abuse. The initiative, which has been welcomed by some charities, will begin in Devon tomorrow but is likely to spread across the country.