Sunday, 21 January 2018

Reading for your mental health | Book prescriptions

Reading has always been a source of education, entertainment, enjoyment and escapism.

And it's something health services are catching on to. Book prescriptions are starting to play a huge role in mental health care, with services recommending mental health-related novels, psychology books and memoirs for patients. See some lists below for reading suggestions.

But reading to help improve your mental health doesn't mean you should only read books about mental health issues.

In fact, often I find books about mental health issues more difficult to read. The content is too relatable. It can end up putting you back in that place of despair, or anxiety rather than helping you break out of it. While psychology and psychiatry books are helpful, it's difficult to learn from them and put their tips into practice while in a depressive state.

For me, reading has always been a form of escapism. I read to escape my mental illness, and I will only read mental health-related books when my own mental health is good.

Last year I found myself turning to books for solace more than I have ever done before. I read every morning on my way to work, on my way home, on every bus, train or plane. I read on days off, on quiet days childminding. I read every spare second I had.

It all started when I joined Goodreads and set a reading challenge of 45 books for the year. I had no idea how many books I read a year before this, but it seemed like something to aspire to; close to, but less than, one a week. By July I had surpassed by goal, reading 72 books by the end of 2017.

And the mental health benefits were extraordinary.
  • Cut down on screen time. I spent less time on my phone, in front of my laptop, and generally being aware of my online presence. I forgot to Snapchat what I was doing because my focus was on reading. 
  • Sleep better. Because I was reading before I went to sleep, I fell asleep faster and had a better sleep. Limiting your screen time before you go to bed has been proven to lead to better sleep, and the nights where I did this, I definitely felt more rested in the morning. 
  • Relieve stress. One of the best things about books, is escaping from the real world and your problems for a little while. After a stressful day at work I used to go home, make a cup of tea and go straight to bed watching Netflix, going over and over my problems in my head until I eventually fall asleep. But reading lets you leave the stress behind. If it's a good story, you get drawn in and forget about your troubles. And after a break from analysing my problems, I usually realise their not that bad after all. Thank goodness I'm not in the Hunger Games. 
  • Always had something to talk about. One thing I find really hard about social anxiety, is trying to come up with possible conversation topics in preparation for a conversation occurring. But when you read, you have a endless supply of topics. Whether it's authors, new books, or book recommendations for other people, I have conversation on the tip of my tongue.
  • Remind you that you're not alone. When I did read mental health related books, I learned more about myself than therapy could ever teach me. You discover that there are others who feel the exact same way as you do, the way that you thought only you had ever felt in the whole world, and they can describe it so perfectly that you finally realise you are not alone. 
Any book can be your prescription to better mental health, but if you want some suggestions, see the lists below.

Do you find reading helps improve your mental health? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

Discover some mental health book prescriptions:

Children’s Books Ireland and First Fortnight Children’s Reading List

Bibliotherapy- created by the HSE, Dublin City Council Libraries

Read Your Mind- created by Jigsaw Tallaght and South Dublin County Council

Reading Well- Created by Reading Well

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