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World Mental Health Day

Written by The Reader, 10th October 2010

The Reader Organisation is the UK's leading charity for reading and health, and as today is World Mental Health Day, we thought we would celebrate our long-standing, innovative and hugely successful partnership with Mersey Care NHS Trust.

We were recently joined by Alan Yates, the Chief Executive of the Trust, at the Liverpool launch event for A Little, Aloud, who praised the presence of Get Into Reading in Mersey Care and the huge impact it was having in improving the wellbeing of service users. Also important for Alan, is the cost effectiveness of Get Into Reading:

I can identify people within Get Into Reading at Mersey Care NHS Trust who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs on average £9,000.

Here are a few words from some of the other people involved in our Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence project, starting with Lindsey Dyer, Director for Service Users and Carers at Mersey Care:

The Get Into Reading programme has been running in Mersey Care NHS Trust since 2007 and currently there are 34 reading groups across all our services – adult mental health, older people, learning disabilities, drugs and alcohol and low, medium and high security services – a testament to the success of our partnership with The Reader Organisation.

The weekly reading groups provide vital creativity and engagement and contribute to the mental well-being of service users and staff. Mersey Care staff, including the Chief Executive Alan Yates and Medical Director Dr David Fearnley, are trained to facilitate the reading groups themselves, ensuring that these groups can continue for years to come.

Mary Weston, Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence Project Manager, The Reader Organisation:

In October 2009 we put on a literary festival in conjunction with Liverpool’s Bluecoat annual ‘Chapter and Verse’ festival within Mersey Care.  You can read about Brian Keenan’s visit to Ashworth in The Reader 38.

After the huge success of last year, we decided to do it again! This year our star visitor will be Mersey Beat poet Brian Patten, who will be talking to some of the older service users about life in Liverpool and at Ashworth Hospital, Chuck Perkins, a jazz poet from New Orleans, is performing. And much more besides...

We will be putting on several smaller events in the new year:  author visits and workshops that we take direct to the wards to maximise the number of service users who can attend.

Dr David Fearnley, Psychiatrist of the Year 2009 and Medical Director, Mersey Care:

“Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in Mersey Care NHS Trust and mental health practice in the last ten years.”

From one of our readers in Mersey Care:

Being part of a group is special – it’s a bit more than just reading a book.  I was never a great reader beforehand, but this group is something that Ihave become attached to; it means a lot to me to be part of it and it has helped me in my life outside the group as well.

Grace Farrington, who is working on a doctoral research project looking at shared reading as a therapeutic intervention (and is facilitating and observing groups within Mersey Care NHS Trust) writes here about the links between reading and mental health:

The relationship between reading and mental health is not one of guarantee, or straightforward prescription. The history of this relationship is diverse and suggests the potential power that can be activated by literature, whether the mind be healthy, diseased or troubled. Its effects might be as various as its readers. Autobiographical accounts are thus able to convey the impact that a text had for an individual, at a particular time in their lives. John Stuart Mill, for example, found in reading Wordsworth a key to his own recovery from a breakdown towards which he had long been heading. Marcel Proust wrote of the captivating experience of reading as a child, when the characters or “beings” in a book would absorb his full attention and devotion, to  become his closest companions. And Charles Dickens has the character of David Copperfield recount a similar tale of how reading provided a source of comfort and an enlivening stimulus to his boyhood imagination, when all other relationships were failing him. Reading then is a way of making the present more habitable.

But the effects of reading might not always be so easily traced. Wordsworth makes ‘The Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ into a history of epic length, and if the mind is as complex as this suggests, then perhaps we do not know what effect the reading of a text will have on the way we think and process thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in years to come. It may be that reading deposits in the mind memories, thoughts, suggestions, that come to bear a much longer term significance. This long-term development of the mind, facilitated by reading, is in alignment with recent recommendations  within the science of wellbeing; a government report of 2008 highlighted the importance of “mental capital” to the way in which an individual is able to cope with significant life events.

At a more fundamental level, the relationship between reading and mental health can also be viewed in reverse, since many writers are known to have expressed in their work, with almost painful articulation, aspects of their own mental suffering. The enduring work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few, bears testimony to the strength of the mind to shed light on its own condition, from within itself; producing markers and maps of experience that readers continue to recognise from within themselves.

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