readingwellA new scheme allowing GPs and mental health professionals to prescribe self-help books to people experiencing mild to moderate mental health conditions has been launched across England.

Reading Well Books on Prescription is endorsed by the Department of Health and will be run through public libraries. It is organised by charity The Reading Agency, the Society of Chief Librarians and local library services.

Reducing referrals to secondary care
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the notion that book-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), particularly with the guided support of a professional, benefits people with mild to moderate conditions such as anxiety or depression. This cuts the need for GPs to prescribe anti-depressants, saving their time and reducing referrals to secondary care.

A Reading Well review panel has looked at existing best practice and expert advice to identify 30 self-help titles to form a quality-assured recommended reading list.

Save the NHS millions per year
Half of the titles come from Constable & Robinson's Overcoming series and editor Professor Peter Cooper estimates that the scheme could save the NHS millions of pounds per year.

"At a time when 1 in 4 of all adults in the UK will experience a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety during their lives, and when mental health-related prescriptions cost the NHS £1.2 billion per year, pilot schemes for Books on Prescription show that it already helps many thousands of people," Professor Cooper said.

"If we extrapolate those figures it could reach almost 240,000 people a year by linking GPs and libraries."

Frustrated by lack of treatment options
The idea of libraries stocking self-help books was pioneered by clinical psychologist Professor Neil Frude after he was frustrated by an inability to treat as many mental health patients as he would have liked.

"It is truly wonderful to see what began as a local scheme for a few GPs developed by the Reading Agency and libraries into a major additional resource for the many thousands of people who want to take care of their own emotional wellbeing but need to learn the psychological skills that will enable them to achieve this type of self-care,” said Professor Frude.

"There is huge potential for self-help for such problems as anxiety and depression and this scheme will help people to realise that potential through the use of high-quality books."

A YouGov survey commissioned in May by Constable & Robinson showed that medication is currently the predominant treatment offered by GPs, with 74% of adults who have been to see a GP about a mental health issue being offered this option.