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How to Use Bibliotherapy for Depression: Fiction Novels to Boost Your Mood, Relate to, or Reassure

Updated on June 23, 2014
Dr. Seuss on reading
Dr. Seuss on reading | Source

What is Bibliotherapy?

In its most basic form, bibliotherapy involves the use of books to help solve particular issues, feelings and concerns. The Ancient Greeks maintained that literature was psychologically and spiritually important, posting a sign above their library doors that described it as a "healing place for the soul". After World War II, bibliotherapy was also applied to both general practice and medical care.

Recently in the UK, the NHS has introduced a "Mood-boosting books" scheme, which encourages those suffering from mental health issues - such as depression and anxiety - to lift their mood with books from local libraries. The London-based "School of Life" enterprise, focusing on philosophy for wellbeing and fulfillment, also endorses the use of literature to maintain good mental health.

On my blog that focuses on bibliotherapy, I have published a list of recommended books for anxiety. This post on depression will act in a similar way, providing accessible literary resources for those suffering from low mood. I hope it proves useful.

What about therapy and medication?

I have struggled with low mood in the past, and I eventually found PTSD to be the primary cause. As a result, I realise the importance of therapy, and I'm aware that medication has been literally life-saving for some people. It is important to emphasise that mental health problems are serious, and professional help should always be encouraged: I know this first-hand.

However, literature can be a great tool to maintain good mental health, or to help someone recover from a momentary blip in their wellbeing. For instance, a person may pick up a light fiction novel in the evenings to cope with work-related stress. Another may find reading to provide reassurance during a break-up. For such situations, both fiction and non-fiction can be great.

Personally, I find daily reading a fantastic way to maintain my mental health: it lowers my stress levels, allows me to relate to characters in similar situations to myself, and slows down my thinking and heart-rate. Medication resulted in unhealthy side effects for me, and I've solved my main issues with therapy (EMDR and CBT). Literature is a way for me to top-up my tank of happy and relaxed emotions.

Just make sure you don't ignore or dismiss the larger issues, or try to deal with ongoing depression or anxiety alone. There is always someone to talk to, whether it be a doctor, a friend, a therapist, or a helpline advisor.

F. Scott Fitzgerald on reading
F. Scott Fitzgerald on reading | Source

What books do you recommend?

I believe there to be two types of books you can read when addressing low mood: those that make you feel happier, and those that provide reassurance that you are not alone. I'll provide a list below for each category. Personally, I prefer the first group: when I need cheering up, I like a comfort and a laugh to make me feel better. Nonetheless, I know many people who find reassurance after reading more negative texts such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In regards to the former, while apocalypses simply make me feel gloomy, they reassure others that life could be so much worse. I can understand that. However, I must say that J.K. Rowling's dementors in Harry Potter make a good analogy for depression: there's something very reassuring in her accurate description of "life being sucked from you".

If bibliotherapy interests you, I would also recommend Nina Sankovitch's non-fiction "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading". After the death of her sister, literature provided Sankovitch with the courage to accept her loss and regain control of her own life, but also remember her sister and the books they shared.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt | Source

More Uplifting Books

  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson
  • Notes From a Small Island - Bill Bryson
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
  • The Smile - William Blake (poem)
  • Collected Poems - William Wordsworth
  • The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  • The Darling Buds of May - H.E. Bates
  • Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
  • Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernières
  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
  • Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  • All Creatures Great and Small - James Herriot
  • Forrest Gump - Winston Groom
  • A Parrot in the Pepper Tree - Chris Stewart
  • The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
  • Read something you read as a child. Try to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar without smiling. Or Roald Dahl's The BFG.

Harper Lee on books
Harper Lee on books | Source

Books to Reassure or Relate to

  • Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  • The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  • Night - Elie Wiesel
  • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  • My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
  • The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  • A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
  • Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
  • A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway
  • The End Of The Affair - Graham Greene
  • The Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  • Atonement - Ian McEwan
  • Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Trial - Franz Kafka
  • Mariana - Tennyson (poem)
  • Notes from Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Your Thoughts

Does reading help maintain your mental health?

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    • profile image

      Debbie 2 years ago

      Time spent being distracted by a novel is time not spent ruminating about my disorders.

    • tolstoytherapy profile image

      Lucy 4 years ago

      Thanks, Kate! I agree that reading particular books can be so useful when you're feeling low, but also so simple to do.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 4 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      This is really interesting . When I was low I used to read a lot of crime thrillers which were far too heavy and depressing. This is such a good idea and such simple common sense. Voted interesting and useful. Thanks:-)

    • tolstoytherapy profile image

      Lucy 4 years ago

      Hi Lisa, thank you for your comment. I'm glad you found my post interesting, and that books help you as much as they do me. I also struggle to go through a day without reading, not least because it gives me some peaceful time alone!

      Best wishes, Lucy.

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 years ago

      This is really interesting! I read everyday. If I did not I would feel sorry for those around me. =) My books keep me sane and allow me to escape the monotony of every day life. Thanks for sharing I voted up!

    • tolstoytherapy profile image

      Lucy 4 years ago

      Thanks for the comment - I'm glad that books help others too!

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 4 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      I so agree. thanks!

    • tolstoytherapy profile image

      Lucy 4 years ago

      Thank you! Yes, it certainly is very individual. Finding the books that work for you can be so beneficial, but it does require some searching and consideration.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      An interesting hub. I agree, reading a book that resonates with some aspect of our own lives can be uplifting. I suspect, though, it is a very individual choice as to which one has this impact.

      Voted up.