Bibliotherapy: Doctors Prescribe Books For Depression

Books for depression

For those of us who have been around LitReactor for a while, the idea that writing can help with depression and other mental illnesses isn't news. We've covered the topic several times, and have seen more than a few stories in our forums of members dealing with their depression through their work. It's always inspiring to explore new ways of fighting through this disorder, especially considering that over 350 million people worldwide suffer from the condition, and less then half of them have access to medication or therapy.

Of course, therapy and even modern antidepressant medication can take a while to have a noticeable effect; even medication can take up to a year to work. It's not surprising, then, that many depressed patients spend the meantime reading up on the condition in self-help books. English psychiatrist Dr. Neil Frude noticed that some books seemed to actually do good things for his patients, and now, the UK's National Health Service is permitting doctors to prescribe self-help books for mild to moderate depression. It's called bibliotherapy, and since the treatment is in literature form, it can be obtained for free at a local library.

If your primary care physician diagnoses you with “mild to moderate” depression, one of her options is now to scribble a title on a prescription pad. You take the torn-off sheet not to the pharmacy but to your local library, where it can be exchanged for a copy of Overcoming Depression, Mind Over Mood, or The Feeling Good Handbook. And depression is only one of over a dozen conditions treated. Other titles endorsed by the program include Break Free from OCD, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Getting Better Bit(e) by Bit(e), and How to Stop Worrying.

Of course, the libraries aren't complaining. According to the article, the first three months of the program yielded 100,000 self-help books borrowed, and getting people to spend more time in the library is never a bad thing. Therapists might not be too happy when their job is outsourced to a non-profit organization, but as far as I can see, nobody is suggesting that books alone should ever be the treatment, but rather that these self-help books are beneficial. The article goes into the philosophical problems of "repurposing a bookshelf as a medicine cabinet", but personally, I think that's adding unnecessary drama to a simple and helpful treatment for a wide number of depression patients. What do you think?

Nathan Scalia

News by Nathan Scalia

Nathan Scalia earned a BA degree in psychology and considered medical school long enough to realize that he missed reading real books. He then went on to earn a Master's in Library Science and is currently working in a school library. He has written several new articles and columns for LitReactor, served for a time as the site's Community Manager, and can be found in the Writer's Workshop with some frequency.

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ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig January 2, 2014 - 10:10am

I think it's great! I can't see how anyone could disagree, so long as the patients are having follow up appointments and their progress is being checked. Why WOULDN'T we want the simplest, least expensive, noninvasive treatment first?

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list January 3, 2014 - 10:10am

I've never really read any self-help books, but I can vouch for reading being helpful when depressed. Depression takes a lot of brain power. It clouds thoughts and redirects them to negative places. A good book can help focus the mind on other things and alleviate those feelings of helplessness.  Doctors are often too quick to perscribe pills (because of monetary kick back from drug companies). I had a doctor in my teen years who got kick backs and would always say things like, "There's this new pill. Let's try it and see if it works." I'd rather have a book. They do less damage to the body---unless someone hits you with it :)