Radio review: Reading to cope with mental health issues

Nuala McCann

Front Row – Reading and Mental health Radio 4

When he was in his twenties, Stig Abell went through a time when he would wake up in the middle of the night shaking uncontrollably and desperately anxious.

He felt paralysed and horrified at the idea that this might become the rest of his life.

Jeeves rode to the rescue. Reading P G Wodehouse helped him cope. He still reads him every day to maintain calm.

For World Mental Health day Stig – presenting on Front Row - went on a journey to understand why reading helps.

People talked openly about severe mental distress and the relief of stories.

Best selling writer Marian Keyes had a catastrophic breakdown. She was candid about how ill she had been.

“Reading was a great help to me... when I could read.”

She hasn't gone back to the person she used to be, she said. “I'm wiser, sadder and braver than I knew I was.”

Of course there were times she couldn't read, but when she could, it was Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham – detective thrillers.

“What I wanted desperately was to escape me and my thoughts,” she said.

“It's a perfect little world, I know it is all going to be resolved in a satisfactory way ... resolution is going to happen.”

She couldn't do bleak novels, but reading was pain relief in those times.

Now she has the emergency book that goes everywhere with her.

Comedian Russell Kane is addicted to books – he woke up at 19, an angry young man with steely determination, wanting to make something of his life.

He'd take his A levels, he'd study Austen to Zola and back again, he had fire in his belly.

Reading helped quell that busy uncontrollable voice inside that never gave up.

This episode of Front Row touched the right note for Mental Health Day, proving that even in our darkest hours, reading is solace for the soul.

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