Doctors Prescribe Self-Help Books to Fight Depression; 11 Other Books to Battle the Blues

NORRIDGE, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: An Oprah's Book Club book titled 'A Million Little Pieces' by James Frey (C) is displayed amongst other self-help, recovery books, at a Borders Book store September 26, 2005 in Norridge, Illinois. Oprah has once again began to name living authors in her book club as the importance of having an Oprah book club logo on one's book is extremely good for sales. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In recent "science is amazing" news, bibliotherapy — using books as therapy to treat mental or psychological illnesses — is alive and well in the United Kingdom. Instead of being given antidepressants, a patient diagnosed with "mild to moderate" depression may actually be "prescribed" a book to read. The process is just as surreal as you think: the doctor writes the title of the book on a prescription pad, and the patient heads over to the library, exchanging his or her note for a title like Overcoming Depression or The Feeling Good Handbook.

Lazy treatment? Not at all. The Boston Globe reports that the idea of bibliotherapy dates from 1916, when clergyman Samuel Crothers claimed that "a book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific." Studies since have shown just how effective self-help books can be in treating mental illness, finding them as beneficial as individual or group therapy when it comes to unipolar depression, as well as helpful in treating anxiety. 

The following list is in no way a prescription, and it's certainly not intended as a substitute for professional treatment. This is simply a list of books that will cheer you up, whether because the lovers get married at the end or someone does a hilarious gag with a bottle of expensive port. This list contains everything: classics and poetry and memoirs and weird old books you've never heard of. All you need is a cup of coffee (also suspected to lift the mood).

1. Emma by Jane Austen

Re. happy endings: it doesn't get much sweeter than little Miss Emma's love story. Basically, she makes a lot of bad decisions and gets in trouble, but just barely, and through it all her childhood friend/future husband loves her anyway. There are lots of adorable misunderstandings that seem tragic at the time but get pleasingly resolved by the end of the book. 

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2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The bubbly pace of this book gets serious when the mom goes missing, but I promise everything turns out fine in the end. This book will make you feel warm and sentimental as you miss your cool, weird mom. 

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3Self Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion by Emile Coué 

A French hypnotherapist wrote this book in 1922, when people were busy inventing ridiculous things like the "anti-forgery pen," but his prescription of simple, daily affirmations was ahead of its time. Try Coué's lovely little statement yourself, right now: "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better."

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4. Every single book in the Anne of Green Gables series

Nothing goes wrong here. Sure, proposals flop and a few people die, but Anne's world is one of those blissful places where things are never truly not okay. Plus, Anne's indomitable willingness to daydream is incredibly inspiring. 

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5. Bringing the Shovel Down by Ross Gay

Ross Gay is the exuberant Whitman of our time; his poems can't help but overflow with a dangerously contagious love of life. For a sample of his style, check out three of his poems in Timber Journal.

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6. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Reading about love, exploring love, thinking about love, remembering that love exists — these are all ways in which happiness lies. C. S. Lewis' nuanced treatment of love is both inspiring and fascinating. 

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7. Hello American Lady Creature by Lisa L. Kirchner

Sometimes all you want is to read about someone else's life: the good, the bad, and the yoga classes. The narrative of Hello American Lady Creature is packed with plenty of loss — an inability to have children, a crushing divorce, the state of being alone far from home — but it ends in soaring redemption. Who doesn't love a good pulling-oneself-up-by-one's-bootstraps ride? 

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8. Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts by Regena Thomashauer

Don't get me wrong, this is a ridiculous book. It insists that you do things to yourself with glitter. I cannot elaborate. But frothy pink packaging aside, it's an overblown reminder that women need to be a little bit more selfish and a lot more pleasure-centric. The perfect indulgent read for when you're feeling awfully unglamorous.

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9. Herzog by Saul Bellow

I adored this book, and found the obsessive narrator's slow, slow, slow recovery both fascinating and heartening, but I wouldn't have recommended it in this list if I hadn't stumbled across a Guardian article where the author read Herzog to help him out of his own slump. Looks like reading about a depressive can, in a way, be its own cure.

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10. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs

Whether or not you want to treat your ailments with a sprig of rosemary is up to you, but it never hurts to read up on your folklore. Plus, studies have actually shown that gardening helps with depression. Don't mock the rosemary until you plant it.

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11. Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse

How does that phrase go — an ounce of laughter is worth a pound of literally everything else? Anyway, I'll be recommending Wodehouse books as the world's best laughing cure until the day I die (from laughing). How great is that title? If you can handle British humor with a good helping of the ridiculous, this is the book you want in your solitary corner. 

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