Pupils at secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire have published a mental health support book based on their own personal accounts of dealing with mental health issues.

‘The Book That Saved My Life’ includes testimonials from pupils describing a book that helped them through a difficult period in their life.  The contributions from pupils demonstrate the powerful impact of books, reading, libraries and librarians to help people cope with challenging situations.

It is part of a school library initiative called Shelf Help, which has been designed to promote positive mental health and social wellbeing through shared reading and writing, and to show pupils they are not alone. With funding from the Scottish Library Improvement Fund (SLIF), school librarians were able to develop and implement the project across all eight secondary schools in the local authority area.

Pamela McLean, school librarian at St Ninian’s High School led on the development of the project. She said: “We recognised that health and wellbeing support in our libraries was not as good as it could be and we noticed an increasing demand from pupils for information and advice on mental health and wellbeing issues, including LGBT topics. We knew we had to change something and to create some support.”

Increased Engagement

Mental Health Expert Natasha DevonThe project has also funded a new reading list and book stock. Librarians and pupils worked together to create a fiction reading list built around characters dealing with mental health and wellbeing issues similar to that of pupils, including Am I Normal Yet by Holly Bourne and Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. A non-fiction reading list was created around subjects of depression, anxiety and mental health. Both reading lists were included in ‘The Book That Saved My Life’.

The librarians invited teen mental health expert, Natasha Devon to speak to two assemblies of S3 pupils from all eight secondary schools about mental health awareness and techniques for coping with stress. 

Pamela McLean added: “We’ve had such a positive response to the initiative and we are encouraged to see pupils engaging with the school library and reading books to support their personal wellbeing. We’re keen that pupils know the school library is here to help them in many ways, not just with studying and coursework. The school library is a safe space.”

The initative ties in well with the aims of Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools - A National Strategy for School Libraries in Scotland 2018- 2023, with school libraries in Scotland providing a safe, trusted space for children and young people to be nurtured.