What can book clubs do for your mental health?

Prioritising our well-being and mental health, as we would with our physical health, has become an integral part of our daily lives. Meditation and yoga are often the go-to activities for self-care but what about reading?

Reading is a common past time for many people, and books bring us a form of escapism. It allows us to disconnect and submerge ourselves into another world. We can get lost in a dystopian fantasy or follow the adventure of our heroine to self-discovery. Autobiographies reveal inspirational journeys and self-help books encourage us to create a new path for ourselves.

Books are also being used as treatments for mental health. Bibliotherapy (or ‘book therapy’) is used as a treatment for depression and other mental illnesses through encouraging self-awareness and problem solving[1]. A Get into Reading program showed how reading groups reduced depressive symptoms in individuals who attended the reading group, compared with a control group who did not attend[2]. So, what does this mean for book clubs and our well-being?

Let’s think about what book clubs can do for us. First of all, they provide us with a space to share our common interest. This creates a sense of community and encourages feelings of belongingness which have been found to protect against depressive symptoms[3].

In joining a book club, you are committing to the act of regular reading. We’ve already discussed the benefits of reading but the commitment to reading gives the reader a goal and a sense of achievement when they reach this goal.

Like paintings, the written word is subjective, and we take our own understanding from the character’s behaviours and motives. When you can relate to a character’s experience, you reflect more on your own emotions and if these emotions are shared by others in the group, we feel validated. This validation is key to our self-acceptance and helps us to process our own experiences through the support of the group.

As we move into a digital age, classic book clubs may continue in dimly lit cafes after work or over a weekend brunch, but let’s not dismiss the benefits of an online community. Taking part in an online book club encourages inclusivity and allows us to build a global network of peers. It encourages us to think about things from a different person’s perspective, who’s lifestyle and culture may be completely different to our own. Connecting with other people from around the world is empowering. It allows our voices to reach further and louder, even during a time of self-isolation. In an online community, there’s no such thing as social distancing.

Words by Charlotte Smith

Photo by Christina Morillo

[1] Pehrsson, D. E., & McMillen, P. (2007), Bibliotherapy: Overview and implications for counselors (ACAPCD-02).

[2] Dowrick C, Billington J, Robinson J, et al. (2012), Get into Reading as an intervention for common mental health problems: exploring catalysts for change.

[3] Bryan, C.J. and Heron, E.A. (2015), Belonging protects against post-deployment depression in military personnel.

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