‘The Good Stuff’: Shared Reading and Mental Health

The Reader Organisation’s latest Masterclass, ‘Focus on Mental Health – Sharing Experiences and Solving Problems’, takes place in Exeter on 27th July. Places are still available for anyone who has completed Read to Lead training, so please do get in touch with Roisin Hyland if you are interested in attending: roisinhyland@thereader.org.uk or 0151 207 7207.

In the meantime, we thought we’d share this case study demonstrating the benefits of shared reading for patients in mental healthcare settings:

N has been coming to every available reading session since he was admitted to hospital about a month ago. He suffers from swings of low mood to mania and often complains of headaches. Bright light exacerbates his headaches and so he especially enjoys the snoezelen sessions which are conducted in a dimmer environment with a lamp for seeing the book.  N was initially quite irritable with other group members, who sometimes strayed off on tangents when talking about the stories we read together. However, I have noticed that he has become more patient, helping others to find their place on the page when they get lost and gently encouraging them to get back to the story.

This week, two members of N’s family were on the ward visiting him when I arrived to start the session. He asked his family whether he could see them another time because he preferred to come to the reading group. He told me ‘This is the thing I look forward to.’ After the session, I asked N whether he would mind saying what he liked about the reading sessions and whether there was anything he thought could improve them. He gave permission for me to quote his response:

“I used to read lots when I was a kid. I used to read books all the time. But then I got into doing bad stuff. And if you do enough bad stuff it can make you ill. That’s why I’m in here. But the reading – the reading feels like the good stuff. It helps me get better and helps me start reading again like I used to. I’m gaining that interest again. I had never read poems before, though. So that’s a first for me. You should be proud of yourself for getting me involved!

The only thing I found hard was when other patients come in and start rambling and that’s annoying. But it’s OK. It’s good that you read even when only one person wants to come. I’ve got nothing bad to say about it – absolutely nothing.”

N expressed a keen interest in attending a community group once he is discharged from hospital. He said he would feel comfortable if it was a group I ran myself, so that he knew who would be leading the sessions. It made me realise how important a sense of continuity can be for service users. I told N he is welcome to come to my community group at a local library and also suggested he might instead prefer to go to the group nearest to his house so that he wouldn’t have to travel so far. Hopefully he will make the leap between inpatient and community.

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