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‘Bibliotherapy’: How Reading Literature Can Help You Cope With Mental Illness

“…There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)

Throughout the day we read down our timelines and feeds on social media, yet – many of us fail to explore texts to widen our knowledge on the world or help us grow, feel better about ourselves. In our society, it seems as though everything is constant: new news, new updates, new pictures. In this generation we are perhaps becoming more absorbed in our notifications rather than our own potential pleasures. According to The Guardianfour million U.K. adults “never” read books for pleasure. Instead, people tend to form excuses that they simply do not have the time to read. In truth, in the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books. Are we missing out on something here?

Stress and anxiety is felt in many of us in modern society. Therefore, in order to ensure our natural reactions to our day to day experiences do not get out of hand to such a great extent that it puts our long term mental health at risk, we must find ways to reduce the effects of these natural reactions. One way to avoid this risk for some of us is apparently by reading. It has been recorded by cognitive neuropsychologist, Dr. David Lewis, that reading can reduce stress levels by 68% , that is a greater percentage than when one listens to music, namely 61% reduction of stress.

Though, this is not completely new news. This idea that reading can aid us in our day to day stresses has been existing for countless amounts of years. Leading advocate of bibliotherapy, Susan McLaine has stated that this idea of bibliotherapy (the use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders) goes back to 300 BC. Ancient civilizations used to place inscriptions over library entrances that read: “healing for the soul”.

Reading does not only decrease one’s stress and anxiety levels physically, in some people – particular works of literature in its craft can ease one’s mind. There is evidence existing that illustrates how literature can be of aid to those not only experiencing stress and anxiety, it can also help those who are suffering from a more long term mental illness. Rachel Kelly has written how “the healing power of consoling poems and prose” was “at the heart” of her recovery from two breakdowns as she has suffered with depression. Kelly stated how “a poem can…provide a different narrative from the negative story in our heads”. In a sense, Kelly reflects in her piece for the Telegraph how she sought comfort in poetry.

This idea that there are nearly 130 million books in the world and more are being written, thought about, and created all by diverse voices, different minds with complex thoughts is extremely comforting when considering the latter. As, one might be able to relate to at least one of those voices and feel comforted. Though, it must be considered this approach to tackling stress might not be for everybody. Each individual on this earth has their own way of coping with their own stresses and anxieties or mental illness – there is no set medicine. Bibliotherapy, reading works of literature, however, considering past research and experiences from those who have tried it, is perhaps a worthy suggestion.

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Tayla J.H
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Tayla is UK based. She is a lover of decent literature, period dramas, and a night drive. You can find more of her personal writing on her website:

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