READING is a common form of escapism and can be the perfect way to relax after a long day at work, but now health professionals in Wales will be able to prescribe free library books to help people with their mental health.

The Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health scheme has been developed by The Reading Agency and public libraries, leading health organisations including the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Mind.

The scheme, which is known as ‘bibliotherapy’, is being launched in Wales following its success in England which has seen 931,000 people borrow over two million Reading Well books from public libraries.

Free copies of the books will be available to members of the public to borrow from all 22 public library authorities in Wales from Wednesday, June 26, as well as supporting promotional material including leaflets containing the book list.

The Reading Agency is working with Welsh Books Council to translate most of the books into Welsh and all programme materials are bilingual.

The books can be recommended by a health professional and borrowed free of charge from a local library, or users can self-refer and borrow the titles as they would any other library book.

Debbie Hicks, The Reading Agency’s creative director, said: “One in four of us will face a mental health issue at some point in our lives. Reading has proven power to help people manage their own mental health and wellbeing.

"We are delighted to be launching this life-changing programme in Wales, with many of the books available in Welsh for the first time, enabling the scheme to reach even more people.”

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(Debbie Hicks MBE, Creative Director at the Reading Agency, at the launch of Reading Well for Mental Health. Picture:The Reading Agency)

Professor Neil Frude, a consultant clinical psychologist and founder of the original Book Prescription Wales initiative, said: “Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health in Wales is a useful and highly cost-effective additional resource for providing psychological help for many people across the principality.

"It is estimated that there are currently over 400,000 adults in Wales with a diagnosable mental condition. Thankfully there are several highly effective ways of delivering psychological help, including the use of self-help books written by expert clinicians, otherwise known as ‘bibliotherapy’.

“The beauty of this scheme is that it recommends the very best books and delivers them freely through the public library service. In this way the scheme has the added benefit of bringing more people into the library, that precious community asset, where they will find many other resources that can help to boost their wellbeing, to build resilience and to thrive.”

The collection of 37 books used as part of the scheme includes health information, self-help and inspirational personal stories such as Reasons to Stay Alive by award-winning author Matt Haig, which explores his personal experience of coming close to committing suicide at the age of 24, and The Recovery Letters, an anthology of heartfelt letters written by people who have recovered or are recovering from depression.

The scheme aims to make health information publications more readily available to members of the public, and is funded by the Welsh Government.