Mental Health Awareness Week: Five ways books and reading build mental well-being


New Zealand's Mental Health Awareness Week happens every year during September. The kōrero/conversation about mental health in our country is an important one, so we've put together a list of reading-related activities to get you thinking about how you can invest in your own mental health and the hauora/well-being of others. 

Tau mai rā te mauri āio, te mauri aroha, te mauri o ngā mātua tīpuna — Let the spirits of peace and calm, of love, and our forebears settle on us all (Māori proverb)


Nature enter methe green pod at turanga

The positive effect of nature on our mental well-being is well-documented, as are the rewards of escaping into a good book — so why not combine the two? Enjoy your book with a cup of tea in the shelter of your own garden, or throw down a rug in a nearby reserve. The library at Tūranga in Christchurch has even brought green space indoors in the form of The Green Connection Pod: a wooden frame lined with 36 indoor plants and seating for two people. Plants are promotors of calmness and can help us feel more comfortable connecting with one another, so find a tranquil outdoor space for your next book group meeting and let the conversation flow.


Mental health and literature

There are many books, both fiction and non-fiction, that embrace themes of mental health. Through literature we learn that mental health challenges are a common human experience — and that narratives of anxiety and depression will touch nearly all of us at some point in our lives, whether through our own experiences or those of a loved one. Here are just a few BDS titles that give insight into the topic of mental health:

eleanor oliphant cover 200x300Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Fiction) — Themes of loneliness, depression and self-harm portrayed through the eccentric and lovable character of Eleanor, a 29-year-old glaswegian accounting clerk. Eleanor ekes out an existence clinging to a destructive routine of work, supermarket pizza and two bottles of vodka, but truly begins to heal thanks to the help of human connections which help her to confront a troubled past.

10pm question 200x300The 10pm Question (Fiction, NZ) — An anxious 12-year-old, Frankie Parsons, asks his mother lots of "10pm questions" — Are the smoke alarm batteries flat? Does the cat, and therefore the rest of the family, have worms? Will bird flu strike and ruin life as we know it? Is the kidney-shaped spot on his chest actually a galloping cancer? — and Ma is the only one who takes them seriously. She is also however the subject of Frankie's most burning question: Why is Ma afraid to leave the house? A moving book that sensitively deals with big issues: family dysfunction, anxiety, phobias, friendship, and the human need for a deep understanding of ourselves. 

all blacks dont cry 200x300All Blacks Don't Cry (Non-Fiction, NZ) — John Kirwin shares a poignant story of hope and triumph over debilitating depression — an illness the successful sportsman hid for many years. Only through reaching out for help from those closest to him did John finally gain control over his disease. Full of observations, insights and advice to help others who may also be battling depression, John reassures us we are never alone: "I've been to hell and I'm back. If you're in that same place, then I understand what you're going through."

madness made me 200x300Madness Made Me (Non-Fiction, NZ) — From psychiatric wards to the UN, Mary O'Hagan channels her full gamut of experience in the mental health sphere into committed advocacy, culminating in her roles as Mental Health Comissioner and an international mental health consultant. Sometimes uncomfortable, always honest and uniquely insightful, this is an important and thought-provoking personal account of the full human experience of 'madness', and its place in our society.


Open your circle

Does your book group have space for another member? Social connection is a vital part of a person's well-being and resilience in times of stress. There could be an acquaintence, neighbour, or someone you haven't yet met who would love the opportunity to make meaningful connections through book group. Our online map of book groups (and readers looking for book groups) is a great place to both advertise your group to prospective members and make contact with them directly. Posting a notice in your nearest library, a community noticeboard, or local newspaper are also great ways to let people know about your group. 


Let's kōrerodiversiteacards 200x300

One of the things that sets a book group apart from solo-reading is the opportunity to chat — often about things other than the book! Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, the staff at BDS are making use of these kōrero starter cards from during their morning tea break. Download them for free and use them at your next book group meeting — they're a great way to remain curious, and celebrate the differences in your group by asking questions you might never have thought to ask otherwise.


Read more

In the past, we've shared on social media and in emails links to articles and blog posts about the benefits of reading and being part of a book group. If you're curious to learn more about book groups, and deepen your understanding of how reading, the sharing of ideas, and social connection benefit our brains and bodies, check out some of the links below. 


Back to All Posts
The Book Discussion 
Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations