Libraries Unlimited, the charity that runs Devon and Torbay’s library services, has today launched its new mental health reading initiative, in line with the national launch held in London.

The “life-saving” 2018 ‘Reading Well for mental health’ titles by The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians were announced this week at a flagship event at the Wellcome Trust (5th June). Each title will offer invaluable support to people with mental health needs and their carers, who are at increased risk of loneliness according to recent research.

2018’s powerful book list, which will help people read well to stay well, is penned by bestselling and highly-regarded authors including Matt Haig (How to Stay Alive); Cathy Rentzenbrink (A Manual for Heartache); Sathnam Sanghera (The Boy with the Topknot); Ruby Wax (A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled) and many more. The expert-endorsed reads are available free in a number of libraries in Devon and Torbay, as well as in other participating libraries across England. The books can be requested and reserved free of charge online, and delivered to any Devon or Torbay libraries. In addition, a range of eBooks are available to download via the Devon Libraries and Torbay Libraries websites.

Matt Haig says: “Reading Well is an absolutely brilliant scheme that recognises the true proven therapeutic power of words. It will help people facing mental struggles to feel understood, and to get help. This scheme will improve, and maybe even save, many lives”.

Since its launch in 2013, the Reading Well programme has impacted the lives of over 778,000 people in the UK. Katie Clarke-Day, who lives with multiple long-term conditions, has helped co-produce the scheme with the Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians. She was engaged in everything from book selection to shaping the language and images used in Reading Well materials. Katie believes this scheme has the power to save lives and combat isolation.

Joanne Launder, Head of Service Delivery of Libraries Unlimited said: “We’re really pleased to be able to provide these free resources to people and communities across Devon and Torbay. Libraries play an incredibly important role in promoting positive health and wellbeing, not least acting as community hubs that help to bring people from towns and rural communities together in safe and welcoming environments. This new series on mental health is a great addition to the collection, and a timely reminder that to talk about mental health issues and to seek help and support. Mental health is a huge issue facing society and libraries have a key role in ensuring that people are supported and well informed. Each series of the Reading Well scheme has been loaned over 2,000 times, and I’m sure these new titles will be equally as well received.”

She continued: “Our libraries in Devon and Torbay offer a range of health and wellbeing support to the people and communities of Devon. As well as the Reading Well scheme, there is a Home Library Service for those that cannot access physical libraries and may be isolated in rural communities, ‘feel better with a book’ groups, memory groups and autism friendly libraries.”

Katie Clarke-Day, Reading Well co-producer from the Coalition for Collaborative Care, says: “Mental health issues are still shrouded in stigma. They are also by their nature isolating and scary. There is a lot of information contained within these books that could save lives, sometimes just the simple recognition that the way you feel has a name or that other people felt this too. I don’t think we can underestimate the power of this list … I also have a lot of respect for libraries both in terms of the wealth of knowledge stored in the books they contain but also in the community space and hub of activity they provide for so many people across the country.”

Tracey Polak, Assistant Director/Consultant of Public Health at Devon County Council: “The launch of this year’s Reading Well scheme is another opportunity for us to start talking more openly about mental health and the impact it can have on people’s lives. It’s fantastic that libraries in Devon and Torbay are helping to provide people with high quality tools and information to improve their own health and wellbeing. We know that the scheme has been hugely popular over the past few years and we will continue to support it and encourage people to talk about their mental health.”

Jackie Doyle-Price, Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, says: “We know that some people can be hesitant to access support, or may be looking for advice on how to help someone else dealing with a mental health issue – Reading Well is a welcome initiative to help empower people and inform everyone about their own mental health. This Government is committed to improving mental health across the country and it’s important to see schemes like this which encourage people to talk and help reduce stigma.”

The list is curated with mental health experts and includes books to support people undergoing talking therapies, as well as guided and unguided self-help.

This year the government appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address the growing “loneliness epidemic”, and in April 2018 the Office for National Statistics released a report raising awareness of the link between health and isolation. People with a health condition are 56% more likely to report loneliness than those without, and those with caring responsibilities were 37% more likely to be lonely.

Journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera experienced first-hand the challenges of growing up with relatives living with mental health conditions: his father and eldest sister had schizophrenia. This inspired his touching Sunday Times bestselling memoir, which was adapted for television – The Boy with the Topknot. It has been chosen as one of the 2018 ‘Reading Well for mental health’ books.

Sathnam Sanghera, Reading Well author, says: “It is said that we read to know we are not alone, and this is especially the case with mental health, one of the most isolating diseases around. Hopefully initiatives like this make sufferers and their carers feel less lonely.”