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Mental health, young people and books Part 1

· Reading for health,Reading matters,Reading for relaxati,Diverse books,Reading to destress

We are so used to being bombarded with messages about getting physically fit. What doesn't seem to get as much focus is keeping our brains fit. How do we do that? You may ask. One easy way is to read. Not a Facebook post, a text on your mobile phone, a tweet or some other social media post, but a book. Yes, really! Reading a book regularly helps to keep your brain fit as well as positively impacting your mental health and well being.

In the UK, the National Literacy Trust in a study published in September 2018, found that "children and young people who are most engaged with reading and writing in their free time have significantly better mental health than their peers."

Dr David Lewis and the Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress. They found that six minutes of sustained reading a day lowered a person’s stress level by 68%, enabling the person to clear their mind and reduce bodily tension. The study found that reading was more effective at reducing stress than the other options they researched such as listening to music (61%), having a cup of tea or coffee (54%), going for a walk (42%) and playing video games (21%).

"Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation," said Dr David Lewis, a researcher and cognitive neuropsychologist. "It really doesn't matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book, you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination."

"This is more than merely a distraction," he added, "but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness."

In 2013, the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme was introduced in England to help individuals to use reading to understand and manage their health and wellbeing. The scheme is endorsed by health professionals and supported by public libraries in England. GPs and other health professionals hand out the Reading Well leaflet containing a book list to patients who they think will benefit from it and recommend one or two titles. Of the four book lists, one is a reading list for young people which includes fiction as well as non- fiction.

There is scientific research that shows that reading and then talking about what you have read can be beneficial to mental health and well-being. Known as Bibliotherapy, it has been found to have a profound effect on people suffering from depression. Liverpool Health Inequalities Research Institute examined a two weekly reading group scheme for people diagnosed with depression over a 12-month period and reported a significant improvement to mental health. Participants reported improved concentration, better emotional understanding, increased self-awareness as well as the ability to discuss meaningful issues.

I hope this has given you food for thought about the humble book. Reading matters. We should all make it part of our daily lives. As a novelist writing fiction for young people, the idea that reading my book Looking Up could contribute in some small way to someone's well being is wonderful.

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Stay blessed xx