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Self-help books 'should be prescribed for severe depression'

Self-help books or websites should be offered routinely to patients with severe depression as they can result in improvements in symptom scores, concludes a new study.

The group of international researchers recommended they should be included as part of the care of patients with severe depression, after analysing the results of 16 studies looking at ‘low intensity interventions’ in patients with depression.

The study – published in the British Medical Journal - comes after the RCGP endorsed a scheme by the Reading Agency charity for GPs to prescribe self-help books to patients with anxiety, depression or relationship problems.

The new analysis looked at data from 2,470 patients with depression treated in non-hospital settings and they found that people with severe depression experience at least as much improvement in their symptoms by reading self-help material as those with milder depression.

The overall standardised estimate of the main effect of low intensity interventions was a drop in depression scores of −0.42, compared with controls.

The researchers said this was equivalent to a drop of around four or five points on both Beck Depression Inventory and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scalescores, over and above the change in the controls.

Research lead Professor Peter Bower, head of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Primary Care, said: ‘The data suggests that patients with more severe depression at baseline show at least as much clinical benefit from low intensity interventions as less severely depressed patients and could usually be offered these interventions as part of a stepped care model.’

Dr David Paynton, RCGP National Clinical lead for Centre for Commissioning said the study showed the potential for the wider rollout of the ‘books on prescription’ scheme.

He said: ‘As GPs we often know that the solution for patients is less about a prescription and more about being given the opportunity to take control of their lives.

‘Books on Prescription will become one of many options that allows GPs to tap into the resources within their local community and this new research in the BMJ shows the potential for wider roll out of this scheme.’


Readers' comments (6)

  • I've been prescribing self-help books, websites and even used Alister Dobbin's DVD's for patients who present with depression for many years due to long waiting lists for psychological therapies in my area. Some patients have been motivated to use these tools but most in my area are hoping or looking for a magic wand and don't realise they are the one that have to change how they react to low mood, but with guidance.

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  • The material is likely to benefit, at least to some degree. It's the mode of delivery that's the issue. I'm sceptical that the majority of those with severe depression are in a place where they can absorb and implement bibliotherapy without supported guidance at the very least

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  • The classic novels have stood the test of time, unlike 'self-help' books written by psychotherapists.

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  • What time scale should we employ to test their longevity?

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  • Well like diet books most go out of print in a few months, which kind of answers your question.

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  • Hard to feel depressed reading with Cider with Rosie (Laurie Lee), or listening to Mozart's Piano Concerto inD. Far more worthwhile pursuits than engaging with talking therapists - and a lot cheaper.

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