“By being in the reading group, I exist as a person”: Anna’s Story

The Reader‘s Annual Report 2014/15 will be published later this month, in time to read at our 2015 AGM where we’ll be celebrating a year of successes and triumphs with our group members from across the country.

In the meantime we’re already getting into a celebratory spirit and offering a sneak peek into our Annual Report with some of our Reader Stories. Great literature is at the heart of everything we do, and the impact that reading great literature has upon our group members around the UK – whether seeming small on the surface or goes deeper to reveal something truly life-changing – give us our most remarkable highlights day by day, week by week, and year upon year.

Anna is one of our group members in Wirral, who has been going to shared reading sessions for nearly ten years. She is in her late fifties. One of our Wirral group leaders tells us more about Anna’s Story:

“Life has not always been kind to Anna. She admits that in the past she isolated herself because she was taking care of her uncle and she has also suffered from depression. Last year her daughter died. She continues to look after her father. Anna says:

“Depression is a flat feeling, everything is on one level. That flat feeling goes away when I am here and we’re reading poems and stories together. We might be crying or laughing but that flat feeling isn’t there. I used to be a very quiet and reserved person. But the reading group has brought me out of myself . It’s taken me ten years for me to do but I can put in an input now. I can give my opinions. When I read out loud someone’s listening to me. By being in the reading group I exist as a person. There has been a different Anna. but now I’ve got opinions and I interrupt.”

Anna is a volunteer at Central Park in Birkenhead and often shares the poems we read with one of her fellow volunteers. She attends two of our reading groups now and is a thoughtful, articulate and caring reader. She is also an enthusiastic advocate for shared reading:

“The reading group says – yes, you can come here. You can be part of society.”

Stay tuned to The Reader Online over the next couple of weeks for more Reader Stories in the run-up to our AGM.

Mindfulness as effective as medication for depression and anxiety

MRL_5280A new study has found that techniques of meditation, and in particular practicing mindfulness, can help towards lessening depression, anxiety and pain, and can be just as effective as medication in doing so.

Researchers from The John Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed data from 47 clinical trials involving over 3,500 patients with a range of mental health and other health conditions, finding moderate evidence suggesting that as much as 30 minutes of meditation a day helped improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, with the same amount of relief being provided by meditation as had previously been discovered in studies examining the effects of antidepressants on the conditions.

Writing in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, lead researcher of the study Dr Madhav Goyal explained that meditation techniques emphasise mindfulness and concentration, allowing people to pay attention to whatever thoughts enter the mind and focus on the surrounding environment. Dr Goyal said:

“Many people have the idea that meditation means just sitting quietly and doing nothing. That is not true. It is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

Though the study showed smaller levels of positive evidence indicating that meditation reduces stress and improves overall quality of life, the researchers are urging that medical professionals be more open in talking to patients about the role meditation and mindfulness could have in helping with depression and anxiety, particularly as it has fewer side-effects than drugs. The analysis is being seen as an example of an area which requires further scientific study to take the evidence from being purely belief based.

The results of the study follow the argument from Chris Dowrick, Professor of Primary Medical Health Care at University of Liverpool, that antidepressants are being over-subscribed to people who do not require them. Writing in the British Medical Journal, the academic and GP says that patients who are sad or distressed are being wrongly diagnosed by a tendency to rely on medication. He states:

“These pills won’t work for people with mild depression, or who are sad – but they have side-effects and we are seeing patients become reliant on drugs they do not need.”

Book close-upDr Dowrick is one of the researchers involved in ‘An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being’ (2010), a study carried out in partnership between University of Liverpool, Liverpool Primary Care Trust and The Reader Organisation. The report investigated how shared reading impacted upon patients with depression, in terms of their social, mental, emotional and psychological well-being, with regular shared reading over a period of 12 months indicating statistically significant improvements in wellbeing. Our shared reading projects are commissioned by health services across the UK and emphasise the rich, varied and non-prescriptive qualities of literature in helping people to discover more about the human condition and their own lives and situations, to help them in feeling better and understanding more about themselves.

Rather than being an individual exercise, reading within a group offers a shared experience – a focusing and broadening of the mind that engages on a variety of levels, increasing confidence, providing self-reflection and self-awareness, improving wellbeing and building social networks. Shared reading is bringing all of these benefits to patients in mental health settings around the country, as well as in local community settings, with 74% of people saying that shared reading has improved their mood and 81% saying it has helped them to relax.

You can read more about shared reading within Health & Wellbeing settings on our website, as well as the full ‘An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being’ report: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research.aspx