Libraries helping to combat rise in mental health crisis

“A library of the 21st century is home to a diverse range of services in our communities; it can support health and wellbeing, prevent social isolation and loneliness, provide support to people living with dementia."


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People living with mental health conditions are benefiting from lifesaving library services which have been launched by councils, including ‘Reading Well’ on prescription schemes, drawing and painting sessions for people with anxiety and addictions and reminiscence activities for those with dementia. 

In the UK, one in four people will have experience a mental health condition each year, and one in six report a condition such as anxiety and depression each week.

With increasing numbers of people living with mental health conditions, the Local Government Association is urging residents to visit their local library service where they can find out more about the variety of resources and books on offer to support mental health and wellbeing.  

It comes as councils across the country support Libraries Week to raise awareness of the pioneering work developed by local libraries to focus on wellbeing, mental health and social isolation in communities. 

Recent activities launched by councils include:

  • Norfolk County Council runs a “Reading Well” collection of books for mental health, which are selected by NHS health professionals who can recommend a list of titles to patients. Since the reading scheme was introduced in 2013, it has reached 778,000 users. To support the county’s ageing population, the service also runs “Just a Cuppa” and “Knit and Natter” events to support the health and wellbeing of older residents.
  • Public Health England has warned the health impacts of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Hounslow Council has launched a home book delivery service to help those who are house bound to access their library as well as prevent social isolation of residents which is a main cause of mental health issues.
  • People aged over 18 who are living with anxiety, stress and depression, or who are just keen to improve their mental wellbeing, can benefit from an activity called “Creative Alternatives” which is hosted in St Helen’s Libraries as part of the award-winning Cultural Hubs programme. The therapeutic activities are led by art professionals and they include creative writing, drawing, sculpture and woodwork. 
  • With 4,600 residents living with dementia and one of the highest percentage rates for dementia in the UK, Sefton Council’s library services has developed a reminiscence recording service to improve the mental health of people who are living with dementia. The recordings include wartime experiences and accounts of childhood times, and they are used by the carers and families to build a rapport with families and carers.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board said:

“Tackling and preventing mental health in our communities is a huge priority. 

“A library of the 21st century is home to a diverse range of services in our communities. It can support health and wellbeing, prevent social isolation and loneliness and provide support to people living with dementia.

“Councils know the benefits which libraries can provide in helping residents to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Despite the substantial funding gaps facing many of our services, councils and library staff have shown evidence of a fantastic amount of commitment and innovation with making the very best of their resources.”