GPs told to prescribe self-help books to sick

A PIONEERING scheme in which GPs prescribe self-help books to people with mental health problems is being rolled out across East Sussex after it proved a success here in Hastings.

East Sussex County Council has trialled the new approach across 1066 Country in recent weeks and, according to the local authority, the feedback has been encouraging enough to warrant casting the net county-wide.

Under the scheme, patients seeking treatment for common mental health complaints, such as panic attacks, phobias, depression and anxiety, will be prescribed a specific book dealing with their problem.

They will then be able to take the prescription down to the local library and borrow the book - with the idea being it will help compliment more traditional treatments.

Su Barnicoat, who works for the Claremont-based mental health charity Active 8, welcomed the new approach.

She said: “Anything in addition to what GPs should be providing is always good.

“We have a whole shelf full of them (self-help books) and they are popular and people take a lot of comfort from them.

“This sort of thing won’t ever be a replacement for support but it certainly does not hurt and in many cases can help.

“It is encouraging to see people looking at ways of treating mental illness with a fresh approach.”

Hastings has among the highest levels of locals with mental health issues of any town in the south east, with the most recent figures showing 2,475 people in receipt of related benefits.

That gives the town an above average rate of nearly 50 people in every 1,000 claiming mental health related benefits. The national average is just 27.6

And, according to Councillor Tony Freebody, head of community services at the county council, any new way of helping those sufferers should be welcomed.

He said: “Books really can help - there is first-class clinical evidence to show that books can be just as effective as other forms of therapy – with no side-effects.

“The books are free to borrow, and you can keep them for three weeks, and easily renew if you need more time.”

The county council has also published a list of recommended self-help books on its website (www.eastsussex.gov.uk/selfhelpbooks). Alternatively, Observer readers can call 01273 335383.