The classics and “challenging language” – in praise of friction – @AndrewGregory

Classic works of literature by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and other great writers can boost your brain and relieve depression, chronic pain and dementia.

Andrew Gregory, The Sunday Times, The Pick-me-up Papers: Dickens better for mental health than self-help books

Here’s a thought-provoking piece from last week’s Sunday Times. Mental health is improved by reading classic works of literature because…

Unusual phrases and unfamiliar words in great works of literature command the undivided attention of readers, provoking moments of self-reflection and helping shift brains into a higher gear.

And, the approach seems to be having a positive impact in clinical scenarios…

There is no evidence bibliotherapy, or reading therapy, can cure mental health disorders, but medics have reported dramatic results in those with poor mental health. Dr Helen Willows, a GP, said she had seen reading “transform the lives of the people that we see day after day at our surgery — those that are stuck, perhaps with low mood or who are socially isolated.”

Dr David Fearnley, executive medical director of the Betsi Cadwaladr University health board and one of the longest- serving medical directors in the NHS, goes further. Reading aloud with others in particular, he says, is “the most significant development in mental healthcare in the past 10 years”.

It’s interesting that, in all areas of life, we pursue ease and a reduction in friction, whether that’s making writing simpler, our background music less intrusive or our daily lives less exercised. But, like resistance work in the gym, or fibre in food, it’s the push-back, the friction that has greatest effect.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

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