Classics by Charles Dickens ‘better for mental health than self-help books’

Classic works of literature by writers such as Charles Dickens improve mental health better than self-help books, experts say.

Reading “challenging language” boosts your brain and can help treat depression, dementia and chronic pain.

Tests show self-help reads don’t “ignite” parts of the brain linked with memory and emotion.

Professor Philip Davis, who has published the findings from the Liverpool University study in his new book, said great literature “frees emotions and imagination” that make you feel “more alive”.

The academic, who penned Reading for Life, said: “If you’re just scanning for information, you go fast, it’s very easy, it’s automatic. But when literature begins to do something more complicated than that, the brain begins to work.”

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The study attached brain scanners to people reading classic texts such as Dickens’ Hard Times.

A participant with dementia who was given a book stunned ­researchers by speaking for the first time in months.

Prof Davis said “you could see the brain coming to life” and called for “wider promotion” of reading in care homes.

Laura Prime, 51, of Crewe, Cheshire, said her depression and anxiety problems improved after joining a reading group.

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Laura said: “I often tell people that I read myself better.”

“I was finding it difficult to interact and communicate with other people, but through shared reading I soon began to enjoy reading and connecting with others again.”

NHS medical director Dr David Fearnley said reading aloud with others is “the most significant development in mental health care in the past ten years”.

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