Libraries and the NHS

Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, recently called public libraries ‘the NHS of the mind’ (see this article). Books, audio books, magazines, CDs and DVDs promote mental well-being in numerous ways: they help us exercise our minds, find advice and new perspectives on problems, and help us develop interests that can give life colour, meaning and purpose.

The NHS is about more than keeping people alive as long as possible. Disease prevention and quality of life are both central to its mission. The arts help promote these goals, and provide many examples of people agreeing that they are vital to living a good and happy life. Someone who lives to a hundred don’t necessarily lead a ‘better’ life than someone who dies at thirty.

The BMJ blog ran a post in December arguing that the health-care profession can learn lots from people who have thought hardest about the human condition and its implications for our health service:

“Perhaps the most urgent problem in health care is to change attitudes to dying, and here, I suggest, the humanities have far more to offer than medicine. Medicine is good on the statistics of dying and what we die of but poor on how to contemplate death. If we want to think more deeply about death then we need to study not medical textbooks but Montaigne, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, Illich, Saramego, and Julian Barnes.”

And it’s not just philosophically-minded white males who can contribute to the debate. Here are two therapeutic poems by the American writer Edna St Vincent Millay:

‘First Fig’
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

‘Second Fig’
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

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One Comment on “Libraries and the NHS”

  1. […] life issues as health and how we interact with people who aren’t like us (see my thoughts on ‘Libraries and the NHS’ for an example). Put another way, there’s a need for some Research and Development work on […]


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