People in England with mild to moderate mental health concerns, including panic attacks, anxiety and depression, are to be prescribed self-help books which they can borrow from their local library. The Books on Prescription scheme, developed by the Reading Agency charity, is being rolled out across GPs' surgeries and libraries in England in May.
6 million people in the UK suffer from anxiety and depression, and around two thirds of those people are not receiving any treatment. There is a growing evidence base that shows that self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions to get better. The latest research, published in the journal Plos One, shows that people who used guided CBT self-help books over the course of a year had measurably lower levels of depression, compared to "treatment as usual". The use of good self-help books is endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, although NICE does not recommend any particular books.
Of course, there are good, bad and indifferent self-help books available, and hunting through the 250,000 or so self-help books on Amazon can be a daunting task. The initial list of 30 books compiled by the Reading Agency has been rigorously put together; only books for which there is an evidence base – ie books which have been used and found to be effective - have made it onto the list. The list addresses issues such as anger, anxiety, binge eating, depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, panic, phobias, self-esteem, stress and worry. There will also be books prescribed to people who suffer chronic pain or fatigue, or who have relationship problems. The list will not remain static, but will be developed over time.
Self-help books are not a substitute for counselling or psychotherapy and are not appropriate for use for people with more serious mental health concerns. Usually the books would be prescribed alongside other forms of help. However the wait between seeing your GP and actually receiving counselling can be weeks or even months. The Books on Prescription scheme may help to fill that gap for those who cannot afford to pay for private counselling.