For years, people feeling down have turned to a good book to brighten their spirits. But in the UK, this self-administered therapy is becoming more than just a well-known way to escape your troubles for a few hours. It’s become a legitimate medical treatment.
Doctors in the UK have started prescribing books to patients diagnosed with mild to moderate depression. Yes, prescribing books. Doctors write down their prescribed reading on a slip, and patients take the ‘prescription’ to their local library and pick up a copy of the book. It’s a process undoubtedly familiar to those who take pharmaceutical drugs, just without the pharmacy.
The health benefits of reading have been sensed for ages and known empirically for decades. Even the ancient Greeks knew this -- they placed signs above their libraries calling them “a healing place for the soul.” In 1916, English clergyman Samuel Crothers coined the term “bibliotherapy”, which, as the name suggests, is the use of books as a form of therapy.
Since the UK’s National Health Services started their Books on Prescription program in June, well over 100,000 patients have headed down to the library and picked up a self-help book recommended by their doctor. A few commonly prescribed books include “Overcoming Depression,” “Mind Over Mood,” “The Feeling Good Handbook,” and “Break Free from OCD.”
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According to Harvard professor Leah Price, the program is a low-cost way to help patients overcome their troubles without resorting to expensive and side effect-riddled antidepressants.
“At best, Books on Prescription looks like a win-win for both patients and book lovers,” Price writes. “It boosts mental health while also bringing new library users in the door...it’s hard to see what harm the program can do. Unlike drugs, books carry no risk of side effects like weight gain, dampened libido, or nausea (unless you read in the car).