Self-Help Books by Hannah Cartwright

Self-help books such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying[1], Happy[2], and Reasons to Stay Alive[3] have all topped the best-sellers charts in recent years, promising readers that they have the power to change their lives. Some of the topics and issues addressed include ‘gaining self-esteem, losing weight, improving relationships, achieving success, getting rich, or finding happiness.’[4] The list is endless, and it seems that there is now a self-help book out there for everyone. This report will look at the reasons for this rise in self-help literature, particularly in regard to mental health and social media. It will also look at the future of self-help books and how they have been expanding to explore more platforms.


Why People are Reading Self-Help

Although there is no direct correlation, sales figures of self-help books are on the rise alongside the number of people suffering from mental health in the UK. According to Booknet, sales of self-help books increased by 27% between 2016 and 2017, with the number of books published in this category increasing by 56% between 2013 and 2017.[5] During this time, suicide rates have been increasing each year; figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that in 2015, suicide rates were the highest ever recorded. Research also showed that one in four people suffer from some form of mental illness in the UK, equating to sixteen million people. However, it is thought that 75% of these are not receiving medical treatment; 51% admit to feeling too embarrassed, while many can have a wait of up to ten years to receive effective treatment.[6] These statistics could provide some explanation for this rise in self-help books, with people turning to books instead of doctors.

In some cases, it appears that this is exactly what doctors are suggesting their patients do. In the last ten years, various schemes have been put in place across the UK where patients are given prescriptions for their libraries instead of their pharmacies. The prescription entitles the patient to one of thirty books chosen by their GP for a prescribed period of time. The Healthy Reading Scheme, as some doctors call it,  ‘will give people with mild mental health problems access to quality, self-help literature to help them overcome their difficulties.’[7] Clinical psychologist, Jim White, has doubts on the effectiveness of the scheme, pointing out that ‘the books only look at psychological causes […] and ignore social factors.’[8] He also states that one of the symptoms of depression is the ‘inability to concentrate’[9] rendering the scheme unsuitable for many. However, the scheme is not there to replace therapy; patients will still get additional help from their doctors should they need it. The scheme is also hoping to expand the self-help books into more formats, such as audiobooks, to make them more accessible to a wider audience.

Social media may also have a part to play in the rise of self-help books. In 2016, it was recorded that there were 2.28 billion people using social media, an exponential growth from the 0.97 billion users in 2010.[10] In the UK, this is 66% of the population with the majority being made up of 16 – 34-year-olds.[11] In this same age group, 94% had at some point ‘committed to making personal improvements’[12] according to research conducted by Forbes in 2016. On social media, users are constantly sharing the ‘best’ parts of their lives and in turn only seeing the ‘best’ parts of other people’s lives. This is resulting in users feeling that their own lives are in some way inadequate and must be improved upon. Thus, where the self-help books come in.


The Future of Self Help

Publishers have also been picking up on this rising trend in self-help books and adjusting to it accordingly, introducing their own imprints to solely publish books in this genre. In 2014, Hodder & Stoughton launched their new imprint Yellow Kite, publishing ‘books to help you live a good life.’[13] In 2015, HarperCollins launched Harper Thorsons, publishing books on ‘mind, body, and spirit.’[14] In 2016, Penguin launched Penguin Life, which now publishes twenty self-help books each year.[15] And in 2017, Bloomsbury launched Green Tree, with the aim of ‘publishing the best [books] in health and wellbeing to support and engage readers through all phases of their life.’[16]

Self-help books are also beginning to spread to more platforms, such as Netflix and podcasts. For example, Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying[17] has recently become a highly successful Netflix series. Those who have never heard of, or read, Kondo’s book are now able to access the ideas addressed in it through their TV’s. It opened up her market to a much wider audience, increasing her book sales and online presence.[18]

Similarly, Fearne Cotton has expanded on the ideas addressed in her book Happy[19] through a podcast, entitled Happy Place. Through this, she discusses mental health with her celebrity friends and those with a large media following and influence, helping to destigmatise depression and anxiety and open up the conversation for further discussion.

Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive[20], has gone on to write a sequel entitled Notes on Nervous Planet[21] looking more into what may be causing depression and anxiety rather than how to deal with it. He also wrote a children’s self-help book called The Truth Pixie[22] to help any children that may be experiencing these feelings and not yet understand them. Despite minimal marketing through social media for the book prior to release, it shot straight to number one in the bestsellers chart, suggesting that this was a much-needed book.

The number of people using social media is expected to continue to climb, with a prediction of over 3 billion users by 2021.[23] Alongside this, mental health issues are also still on the rise. As multiple imprints have now been dedicated to the genre of self-help by publishers, it appears that self-help books are only going to continue to grow in sales and popularity over the following years, although they may not always take on the traditional form of a book.

by Hannah Cartwright


[1] Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever (Vermillion, 2014)

[2] Fearne Cotton, Happy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect (Orion Spring, 2017)

[3] Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive (Canongate Books Ltd, 2015)

[4] Jim Taylor, ‘Personal Growth: Is the Self-help industry a Fraud?’ Psychology Today. [accessed 21 March 19]

[5] Pamela Miller, ‘Self-Help / Personal Growth book sales are growing.’ Booknet Canada. [accessed 21 March 2019]

[6] The Guardian. ‘12 Statistics To Get You Thinking About Mental Health in Young People’. [accessed 22 March 2019]

[7] Gerry Braiden, ‘GPs prescribe self-help books to cure depression. Scheme bids to beat minor mental health problems and end reliance on drugs.’ Evening Times. 11 February 2005.

[8] Roz Lewis, ‘Can you read yourself better? A new scheme has been launched in which GPs prescribe self-help books to treat depression but it’s not without critics.’ The Daily Mirror. 11 July 2013.

[9] Roz Lewis, The Daily Mirror, 2013.

[10] eMarketer. "Number of Social Media Users Worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in Billions)." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista, [accessed 22 Mar 2019]

[11] Statista. ‘Social Media Usage in the United Kingdom’. [accessed 22 March 2019]

[12] Helen Booth, ‘How self-help is getting a millennial makeover (and how to use it to live your best life)’. Stylist. [accessed 21 March 19]

[13] Yellow Kite. [accessed 21 March 2019]

[14, 15] Helen Booth. ‘Best Self-Help Books’. Stylist. [accessed 21 March 2019]

[16] Bloomsbury. [accessed 21 March 2019]

[17] Marie Kondo, 2014.

[18] Molly McHugh, ‘How Netflix’s ‘Tidying Up With Marie Kondo’ Cluttered the Internet.The Ringer. [accessed 21 March 2019]

[19] Fearne Cotton, 2017.

[20] Matt Haig, 2015

[21] Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet (Canongate Books, 2018)

[22] Matt Haig, The Truth Pixie (Canongate Books, 2018)

[23] eMarketer. "Number of Social Media Users Worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in Billions)." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista,, Accessed 22 Mar 2019

by Hannah Cartwright