It's not our libraries' responsibility to help the mentally ill. It's the Government's

News that GPs will prescribe books to help those suffering from mental health problems is a smokescreen - the Coalition is failing the most vulnerable

Related Topics

What do public libraries and the Arts Council have in common? Well, besides both being completely broke (thanks to government cuts), the latest thing they share is that they are now to help pay and support the mentally ill through a new “books on prescription” scheme announced last week.

The new “Universal Offers” programme developed by the Society of Chief Librarians and partners including Arts Council England and The Reading Agency will see people with mild to moderate mental health concerns ranging from anxiety to depression prescribed self-help books which they can borrow from their local public library.

The problem is not with the scheme. There is a an increasing amount of evidence to show that this kind of self-help works, the latest being research published in the journal Plos One which showed that people who used these methods over a year had measurably lower levels of depression.

Of course self-help books are no substitute for already existing treatments or appropriate for use in more serious cases. However anyone who has been given a referral for therapy or psychiatric treatment will know the wait between the trip to GP and getting treatment can be weeks, even months. Treating mental illness is never quick and anything that can help assist and support during those interim waits should be applauded.

The issue here is not that these organisations have gone above and beyond to support those in need. The big problem is the gaps in the system this scheme is plugging. Gaps that have been allowed to exist because of repeated government cuts, to health spending, to local authorities and to charities.

While the idea will be supported by the Department of Health and DCMS, it was paid for and launched by a number of organisations who are already juggling their own financial demands. Among those in attendance at the official launch was Tory culture minister Ed Vaizey who hailed the programme as “fantastic” and was keen to stress that libraries played an “essential” part in our communities. Poor you, then, if you are prescribed a self-help book but your local booklender was one of the staggering 200 UK public libraries that closed in 2012.

While it can be easy to be taken in by ministers patting themselves on the back, it’s important to remember this coalition was the first government to cut mental health spending in over a decade despite pledging to place it at the top of their priorities. Recent research from the Care Quality Commission noted that around 23 per cent of illnesses that people suffer in England are attributed to a mental health problems. Other studies, including one from the Mental Health Policy Group at the London Group of Economics, place that estimate much higher suggesting that it is around 50 per cent in those under 65.

In other bleak news UK prescriptions for antidepressants such as Prozac and Seroxat rose by nearly 4million in 2011 and the figures from Office for National Statistics published within the last fortnight show suicide rates in the UK have “increased significantly”. 

Now, mental illnesses are complex and caused by and exacerbated by a myriad of biological and environmental reasons. However, it doesn’t take a genius, psychiatrist or doctor to see that rising unemployment, welfare changes, widespread poverty, unmanageable living costs and constant reports of economic crisis aren’t the most happy-making of circumstances.

In a speech last October, Labour leader Ed Miliband said this was “the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age” while the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disease around the world. As the situation worsens it is time the government put its money where its mouth is on mental health policy - instead of leaving it to the librarians and the mentally ill to fix for themselves.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'