This site is intended for health professionals only

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.’