An estimated 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression For those suffering, the issue is how to cope with the illness. Recovery methods come in many forms, from medication to homeopathic treatment, but a basic yet effective one is reading. It is for this reason that The Recovery Letters website, which features letters from those recovering to offer support to those still struggling was created.
Jacqui suffered from Post-Natal and Post-partum depression from 2000-2001. She explained that she often uses reading as a form of escapism in her life, particularly when coping with her depression, describing it as a way “to switch off and enter another world, better than mine. Or to read about someone else’s experiences that may be similar to mine.”
In 2013 the idea that reading can help depression was pioneered by The Reading Agency, who compiled a list of 27 ‘mood boosting’ books that will become part of a ‘books on prescription scheme’, used by GPs.
In the past, it was hard to find suitable texts or books to read on depression. Jacqui told us she “had to search all over the internet for small articles and doctors comments.” This long searching process may be putting many off using reading as a coping mechanism.
Another sufferer Elizabeth, who has suffered from reactive depression intermittently since her early teens, told us that she has “tried to use reading as a form of escapism”, however, “one of my symptoms in depression is great difficulty in concentration” she explained, for this reason she struggles when trying to read long, texts or books.
Like Elizabeth, James Withey, founder of The Recovery Letters found it hard to concentrate on lengthy books. Unfortunately he found “Most books and memoirs on depression are huge and inaccessible to anyone suffering from acute depression.” which of course again means it can be hard to read while trying to cope with depression.
It is for this reason that The Recovery Letters are all fairly short so that anyone, is able to read and gain support from them. Recent research by Mindlab International showed that reading has a massive effect on our moods and can reduce stress by up to 67%, which shows us how important it can be for people with depression to have something they can read.
James first set up ‘The Recovery Letters’ to help others like him, by providing short, readable letters that offer support. James who himself suffered from acute depression had always loved to read, “it gives me a buzz to see how an author can describe something so beautifully that it might chime with my own experience.”
It was therefore a shock to him when he found he struggled to read. As an avid reader, James told us “it was a massive loss, like a bereavement. I never thought I would read again”. The idea for the website itself came to him while he was recovering in a psychiatric hospital in 2011, the idea stayed with him until he made the website a reality.
More and more people are slowly learning about The Recovery Letters, which “started out as a simple idea because of the need to hear about people’s recovery.” to further this James said “I Love that it helps both readers and the letter writers.”
When asked if anyone had ever told him how these letters made them feel, James said “People say that it makes them feel less isolated, comforted and hopeful.”
Jacqui and Elizabeth read the letter James first wrote for his website and told us how it made them feel. Jacqui replied “The first time I read it, it made me cry but having read some of James’ other letters I think people can get great support from his site.” Whilst Elizabeth said “The letter makes me feel reassured and encouraged to take little steps each day”.
As well as offering the support that many take from James’ website, some may even use it in recovery. Many people have told James that his website has in some way helped them recover. James gets countless emails and tweets saying how his letters have helped. “People say that it has given them hope, that they were able to survive that night or that moment of pain. People say that they (now) realise their symptoms are not particular to them and how important it is that we talk about depression and reduce the myths and stigma that surround all of mental illness.” says James.
Thanks to websites such as The Recovery Letters, mental health issues such as depression are coming into the spotlight and allowing us to talk freely about them. James Withey’s website has a great future in helping many more people like him. James’ hopes for the future of The Recovery Letters include; translating the letters into other languages, producing audio recordings, publishing the letters in a physical book and expanding them to other mental illnesses. James’ closing words with us were “I am working to make this happen and it’s very exciting!”