Reading and writing your way to better mental wellbeing

Our Director, Jonathan Douglas, explains what our new research shows.

We’ve long known that a love of reading and writing can help children flourish at school and go on to succeed at work. But we now know that reading and writing for enjoyment can also play a vital role in helping children lead happy and healthy lives.

Our latest National Literacy Trust report, Mental wellbeing, reading and writing, found that children who enjoy reading and writing in their free time have significantly better mental wellbeing than their peers who don’t.

We discovered that children who enjoy reading and writing, do it daily outside school and have positive attitudes towards literacy are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than their peers who are not engaged with reading and writing (39.4% vs 11.8%). On the flip side, not being engaged with reading and writing makes children twice as vulnerable to low levels of mental wellbeing than their engaged peers (37.4% vs 15%).

These findings are based on our Annual Literacy Survey of 49,047 children and young people, aged 8–18, from across the UK. In addition to asking children about their reading and writing attitudes and behaviours, we also asked children — for the first time — about how happy they are with their lives.

From children’s responses, we were able to create a new Mental Wellbeing Index. On a scale of 1–10, the Index shows us how happy children are with their lives overall, how well they feel they are able to cope with difficult situations, and how they feel about themselves.

On the whole, children and young people across the UK reported good levels of mental wellbeing (7.3 out of 10). However, one child in 10 (9.5%) scored below the mid-point of our Mental Wellbeing Index, indicating they are unhappy with their lives. When we bring literacy into this equation, we find that the more children and young people engage with reading and writing in their free time, the higher their levels of mental wellbeing.

Why? Well, an enjoyment of reading and writing can help children develop the literacy skills they need to take control of challenging situations, which is particularly important when children are feeling vulnerable. It can enable children to make sense of how they’re feeling, express their thoughts and emotions and seek support when they need it.

An enjoyment of reading and writing also provides therapeutic benefits, such as helping children improve their self-confidence and self-awareness, reducing stress and anxiety, fostering an interest in learning and helping them understand other points of view.

At a time when children and young people are facing a multitude of pressures at school, at home and in their social lives, it is vital that we do everything we can to help them develop the resilience they need to cope with life’s challenges — something that we now know a love of reading and writing can help with.

With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Place2Be to create a range of resources to help teachers and parents support children’s mental wellbeing through reading and writing. From assembly plans and book lists to top tips and activity ideas — we’ve got something for everyone.

For more information, visit: literacytrust.org.uk/wellbeing

If you are worried about your child’s wellbeing, you can talk to their school, your GP or visit the Place2Be website for a list of organisations that provide support for parents and children.

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the National Literacy Trust. Mental wellbeing, reading and writing is the third in a series of research reports being published in our anniversary year to establish why literacy is more important in 2018 than ever before. Find out more about #Literacy25: literacytrust.org.uk/literacy25