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Connections through crisis: Books by Heart launches at King’s

UKC and NS Health promote patient mental health through Atlantic literature

4 min read
Books by Heart
caption Books by Heart is aimed at providing east-coast ebooks to patients in hopes of improving their mental health.
Books by Heart

The University of King’s College and two partners have launched an experiment to see if they can help patients in Halifax by getting east-coast ebooks into hospital rooms.  

Books by Heart launched at King’s on Wednesday with the stated goal of providing free access to Atlantic Canadian ebooks by 2023. It’s a collaboration between King’s, Nova Scotia Health and the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association. 

The project will first be tested on King’s students but the long-term plan is to distribute the ebooks in the acute-care ward at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.  

“Creating an environment that promotes positive mental health could make a difference for our patients in the future,” Dr. Gabrielle Horne, a QEII cardiologist and principal investigator with the project, told The Signal at the launch event on Wednesday.

Heart attack patients who are diagnosed with depression are about twice as likely to die compared with those who are not diagnosed with depression. Horne said low moods were a problem that only grew worse when the pandemic hit.  

“Our patients were suddenly so isolated,” she said. “The mental health of everyone working in health care was also much more fragile. And the (book) project in my mind became more of an urgency.” 

She said two major factors in how patients recover are their mental health and their ability to remain strong through treatments. Joanna Sheridan, the King’s point person for the Books by Heart project, told The Signal that literature could be part of the solution. 

“The hope is that we can use literature to try to help patients overcome these health obstacles, stay hopeful, [and] connect with stories of overcoming,” said Sheridan. 

King’s connection 

King’s students are taking part in research and testing for an ebook app that will host specially-chosen reading material.

Horne said it will be awhile before their app rolls out to hospitals where everyone on the ward, including patients, staff, and families, can read the ebooks. King’s encourages students to get involved with Books by Heart where they can. 

“The humanities can have a reputation for not having much significance to the present day,” said Sheridan.

“Here we have a specialist physician who came to us with an idea, because she thought that she could do her job better with literature.” 

QEII Health Sciences Centre
caption Books by Heart will be piloted at King’s, but the eventual plan is to make Atlantic ebooks available in an acute care ward at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.
Kristin Gardiner

Atlantic author benefits 

Books by Heart could also include book clubs and author talks.

Jon Tattrie, who edits a regional publishing magazine, told The Signal that writers will get paid for their books and could access new audiences.  

He added that he hopes Books by Heart will bring a personal touch to hospital rooms. Tattrie recounted the experiences of his father, Jack, who was a chaplain at a hospital in Halifax.  

“Often as a chaplain, he would be the only person … who would come in and talk to (patients) person-to-person about the rest of their life,” said Tattrie, editor of Atlantic Books Today and author of eight books. 

“I think this program, Books by Heart, can do a similar thing. It’ll build opportunities for really deeper connections. And I think that the medical people will find that it’ll open up the patients, open up a sort of more vulnerable connection so that they’ll get better care.” 

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About the author

David Shuman

David Shuman is a reporter from Musquodoboit Harbour, NS. He works as the editor-in-chief of the Dalhousie Gazette, Dalhousie's independent campus...

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