Doctors prescribe self-help books

The Scotsman
Sept 6, 2006
STUART NICOLSON

SELF-HELP books are being made available on prescription in an attempt to tackle depression, eating disorders and other mental-health issues.

The scheme allows patients to borrow the books anonymously from local libraries for up to six weeks. The initiative has been introduced in Fife and Glasgow, and if successful it is likely to be extended to other health authorities across Scotland.

Depression is the most common condition recorded by family doctors in Scotland.

Statistics show that more than 300,000 Scots visit their doctor each year because of stress or depression.

But it is estimated that 75 per cent of people with depression do not seek treatment.

Experts believe part of the problem is that many people – especially young men – are too embarrassed to ask for help.

They hope prescribing the books will allow many people with mental-health problems to treat themselves in privacy, without the need for attending therapy sessions.

The books offer complete step-by-step treatment programmes, including exercises, self-assessments and diary sheets.

Alan Freeburn, a psychologist with NHS Fife, said that similar schemes running in Wales had been very successful in treating comparatively minor mental-health problems.

He added: “Libraries are already well stocked with self-help books, but many people are unaware of the range that is available, or which one would be right for them.

“It can be very embarrassing for people to go into a library or bookshop and pick a self-help book off the shelf, or ask for a particular book.

“With a prescription they will be able to get books from the library very discreetly.

“The books will also allow people to begin overcoming their condition in the privacy of their own home. That, in itself, is often a major factor in helping people overcome mental-health problems.”

Funding for the project is split between local health boards and council-run libraries.

The scheme is confidential, with libraries barred from disclosing who is borrowing the book or what it is about.

The book loan can be renewed for a further six weeks if the patient requires.

Mr Freeburn said: “People feel empowered by treating themselves, rather than simply relying on a psychologist.

“The books can also often help people avoid lengthy waiting lists for therapy sessions, and will hopefully nip problems in the bud quickly before they become more serious.

“When we were setting it up here in Fife we canvassed opinion among GPs, and the vast majority were in favour of it and said they would use it,” Mr Freeburn said.

“The books cover everything from eating disorders, anger management, low self-esteem and depression, to helping a child cope with bereavement.

“The first scheme of this kind was set up in Cardiff a couple of years ago, and all the indications are that it has been very successful down there.

“We are confident that success will be replicated here.”

Doctors in Fife are also able to prescribe exercise classes in local leisure centres to patients.

Jim Brennan, Fife Council’s community services spokesman, said that only titles included on an approved list of self-help books could be prescribed by doctors.

He added: “We are hopeful that allowing doctors to prescribe these books will help overcome some of the stigma that is attached to mental-health issues.

“Depression is a major problem across Scotland, and anything that helps tackle it should be welcomed.”

New figures released last week showed that Scotland has the highest suicide rate in Britain, with both the male and female rates almost twice that of south of the Border.

The Office for National Statistics report also found that areas of Scotland dominate the list of places in the UK with the highest rates.

Shetland was revealed as having the highest suicide rate for men, while women in Glasgow were the most likely to kill themselves.

Experts said exact causes for the regional differences were unknown.