Not so stranger than fiction: the benefits of reading for pleasure

Date 5.03.2020

Today is University Mental Health Day when universities up and down the country highlight how important good student mental health (MH) is and spread the word this is a year-round issue to be aware of.

It’s also World Book Day so members of the Faculty of Health, Education and Society have written about the benefits to our MH when we read for pleasure.

Reading a book for pleasure can increase empathy (our understanding of our own identity, improves empathy and gives us an insight into the world view of others) – Sarah Wickes, Senior Lecturer in Practice Development (Nursing):

“There is evidence that reading about people’s different experiences of life can increase empathy. For example, someone with disabilities or from a different cultural background can give the reader an insight into the thoughts and feelings that person has about their life and experiences.

“Reading can informally give the opportunity to see the world from someone else’s experience, which may help us when we meet new people and experience different social situations.”

Claire Poole and Sarah Wickes Mental Health specialists on World Book Day

Lecturers Claire Poole (left of photo) and Sarah Wickes turn over new leaves for World Book Day.

This view is echoed by Dr Josephine Chen-Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Developmental and Educational Psychology:

“Sharing books with young children helps them to appreciate people have different points of view, a vital skill for communication.”

Reading a book can reduce the symptoms of dementia – Dr Alison Ward, Health Researcher:

“Reading can have a number of benefits for people with dementia, particularly in the early to middle stages. It can be used to stimulate the memory and support social engagement through discussions with family and carers, and it can be a fun activity.

“The Alzheimer’s Society suggests that reading shorter stories or poems may be more suitable, particularly if an individual is finding it difficult to concentrate on longer stories. Comfort can also be found in holding books or listening to someone reading a book.

“Reading may also be a preventative factor for dementia, helping to keep the brain active and ‘fit’. Recent research indicates that regular participation in intellectual activities may delay or prevent dementia, with reading identified as an intellectual pursuit. Reading uses a number of mental processes to help us imagine the story and characters, and to remember the plot. This helps towards keeping the brain health.”

Reading can improve your overall well-being, for instance lowering your levels of stress – Emma Dillon, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing:

“Reading for pleasure can have positive benefits for your well-being. Reading provides opportunities to learn new things and to be mindful; both have a strong evidence base in enhanced well-being.

“Joining a reading club is another option that may enhance well-being by facilitating connections, another thread of the ‘10 keys to happiness.’ See Action for Happiness for more about this.”

Reading a book can reduce the symptoms of depression – Dr Evgenia Volkovyskaya, Lecturer in Psychology:

“Reading certainly is a therapeutic process and can help to deal with this debilitating state we call depression. Books can be used as a complementary ‘self-prescribed’ medication and a way to mentally convalesce depressive symptoms.

“Even if the idea of enjoying reading again seems quite alien when you are depressed, the right book opened in the right moment will help you to emerge from the beneath of this ‘dark cloud’.

“So-called ‘Bibliotherapy’ claims to cause behavioural changes through emotional responses, “… the best fiction can help us to learn new ways of seeing the world and of relating to other people; can teach us deep empathy.”

“Books ‘on prescription’ can be found on Reading Well, an NHS recommended website.”