On reading and books

Romance Novels and Mental Health

According to the mental health charity Mind, 25% of the population in England will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year, and this was before governments mandated historic and sweeping lockdowns that went on years longer than promised. Now the situation is far worse, with the World Health Organisation stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, with young people and women the worst hit.

The 24/7 news cycle is a constant bombardment of fear-mongering negativity and disaster porn. We are told what to believe, what to fear, and what to do via the television, social media, billboards, radio, in adverts, shops and communications from our workplaces. Unless you live off-grid in the middle of nowhere and hide away from the entire world, this narrative is literally inescapable.

I used to watch and listen to the news at least twice a day. It nearly destroyed my mental health. I oscillated between fear, anger and impotence, as I was presented with stories of a world gone to shit that I could do nothing about. No matter what I posted on my own social media, the letters I wrote to my MP, the money I gave or raised for charity, nothing changed what I saw in the news or how I felt. So I stopped seeking out mainstream media news and tried to focus on the reality of my life and relationships – the things that were real to me and that I could affect. It didn’t mean I escaped knowing what was going on, but the effects on my mental health were minimised.

It was around this time that I rekindled my love of reading romance novels. Reading has always been an escape for me, as romance novels were always my go-to choice as they guaranteed a happy ending. I don’t want to watch a film or read a book that doesn’t end happily. This does somewhat limit my choices, but I want to be lifted up, not dragged down. Life’s hard enough, and my nights are always filled with nightmares anyway, so I want to escape to a world inside a book where the girl gets the guy, the guy gets the guy, the alien gets the human, or the girl gets a doctor, a beast, a sphinx, a vampire, a golem and an invisible man, and they all live happily ever after, the end.

I posted on my instagram account asking for people’s thoughts on the subject of mental health and romance novels, and their responses echoed my experiences. 

@wendygertelan I have been reading almost 100% romance novels since about a few months into Covid. I read them because I know that there will be a happy ending. I used to read a variety of books and watch a lot of TV. I have basically stopped watching TV (and only read).

@the.romantiquarian100% romance saw me through some dark times last year as a stay at home mom with a toddler in the height of the pandemic.

@jennesaisreadsI had never read a romance novel before last year, in the height of the pandemic, when my mental health plummeted. I have been reading them non-stop since then and I credit them (along with meds and a good therapist) for bringing me back from the dark place I was in for too long. I’ve read almost 400 books so far this year, and I could probably count on one hand the number that weren’t romance of one kind or another 🤣

@ljheldwrites I read everything, however it comes in phases and the one genre that I gravitate to the most is romance. The happily ever after’s have seen me through some tough times. I just plain 💕 love.

@thereaderandthebakerRomance novels got me through some tough times in the past. Reading them would always make me feel better. They helped me so much in my time of need!

@winecountrybooklover I always read them. Decades of reading. I stopped for about 10 years when I moved, new job and new man and stupid Facebook took over. When I started back up again a few years back and dove into audios I couldn’t believe I ever stopped always taking me to far off places, learning new things and bringing romance back into my relationship.

To me, reading romance novels is about trust, safety and expectation. You can trust that even though things may get a little sticky (no pun intended), everything will turn out right in the end. 

Romance novels are also an incredible space for showing that everyone is deserving of love and can find someone who makes them the centre of their world. Mainstream media bombards (mainly) women with unrealistic and photo-shopped versions of what they should look like and how they should act. You only have to look at newscasters. It’s okay to be an older man but you sure as hell can’t be an old, grey-haired woman. The romance novels I read growing up as a teenager all featured small, perfectly proportioned beauties who didn’t swear, initiate sex, or talk back. Now there is a romance heroine to match every woman, and this modern development is one I embrace wholeheartedly. As a romance reader, I don’t care what someone looks like or what their sexuality is. I care about the connection they have with their love interest, and how the relationship develops. However, as a six foot woman, I can now read stories featuring women who are even taller than me.

Want a female MC who’s over six foot? Try The Misdeeds of Sadie Quinn by Merren Tait, Piece of Work by Staci Hart, or Barbarian’s Lady by Ruby Dixon. Want a female MC in a wheelchair? Read Knot my Type by Evie Mitchell. Want an autistic heroine? Read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Want a female MC with a double mastectomy? Read Imperfect by April Wilson, where our heroine falls in love with a super hot (and blind) ex Navy SEAL. Want to read a character with Fibromyalgia? Read Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. 

I could go on and on. My point is that romance novels level the playing field for the reader. Heroines and heroes don’t have to look or act according to certain standards to find someone (or someones) to love them. Everyone gets to be represented and everyone gets their happy ending.

@writer_cjessen – Since one of the criteria for a romance is that it has to have a happy ending, it was the only thing I could read all last year and into this one. Knowing that, despite all the shitty things that are happening, it’s all going to be okay in the end was always reassuring in a time of unknowns. Not to mention knowing that despite all of these faults in these characters, they will still be loved, I think that eventually becomes internalised to the reader. 

Nothing takes me out of my own head than reading a book and escaping into another world. And writing romance novels is even better as I get to create a fall in love with characters and then share their story with the world. There is nothing better than having a conversation with a reader about how much joy my books have brought them, and all my other writer friends feel the same.

@author.melissa.anderson Books, and the romance genre in particular, got me through one of the hardest times of my life. That’s absolutely a driving factor for my writing. I want to offer a reprieve for those who need it.

I believe that reading romance novels are incredible for improving our mental health. They teach us about life, other people’s lived experiences, and relationships. They give us confidence to advocate for ourselves in all aspects of our professional and personal lives. They show us that everyone is deserving of love. And they give us a safe space in which to escape our reality for a few hours.

Get in touch via email or social media and let me know your thoughts!

Evie xxx

Ps: Want to read more on this subject? I recommend this incredible blog – Why Anxious People Choose Romance Novels by Kate LeBeau @romantically_inclined