Cure for Depression? Throw Away the Prozac and Bring in Some Shakespeare

The Poetry Pharmacy.

There is a ‘Poetry Pharmacy’ in England where you can be ‘prescribed’ poetry instead of pills. (Image: via Poetry Pharmacy)

What if you came down with some health issue like depression and were prescribed a sonnet from Wordsworth instead of regular pills? Well, there is a place where you can get such treatment. Called the “Poetry Pharmacy,” it is located in the English county of Shropshire. It was opened last year in October, coinciding with National Poetry Day.

Poetry Pharmacy for depression

The “pharmacy” is the brainchild of poet Deborah Alma, who previously “prescribed” poems as cures from the back of her own vintage ambulance for about six years before setting up her new venture. Once you walk into her Victorian-style shop, you will actually be reminded of a traditional pharmacy. There is a consultant room where people can have a personal chat with Deborah. The café area basically looks like a dispensary. There is also a large space dedicated to writing retreats, performances, and workshops.

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“It kind of started out at a kitchen table where I would give a friend who had a broken heart or something some poetry to soothe them. I worked with people with dementia which also drove the idea because I watched how poetry can affect a change in mood. I was in a disastrous relationship and I needed something to absorb me. Buying the ambulance and writing my own poetry helped to cure me. And so I wanted to cure others, through poetry,” Deborah said to Shropshire Star.

Owner Deborah Alma watched poetry soothe a troubled friend of depression and change the mood of dementia patients and she decided she wanted to cure others through poetry.
Owner Deborah Alma watched poetry soothe a troubled friend and change the mood of dementia patients and she decided she wanted to cure others through poetry. (Image: via Poetry Pharmacy)

To set up her pharmacy, Deborah secured a mortgage for the building. She then raised money through a Kickstarter campaign to pay for expenses like plastering, heating, and so on. She was also able to get a grant from the Arts Council to be used for conducting workshops and courses. All in all, Deborah believes that her Poetry Pharmacy will prove to be beneficial for the community. So what would a typical prescription look like?

It all depends on a person’s psychological situation. For someone with a broken heart, Deborah might suggest Derek Walcott’s Love After Love, which revolves around falling in love. In case someone is experiencing grief, she would suggest Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art, which is about “letting go.” And for a person addicted to the Internet, Deborah thinks Miroslav Holub’s The Door makes perfect sense, since it speaks about experiencing things for their own sake.

Poetry and physicians

Rafael Campo is a physician and award-winning author who prescribes poetry for his patients. During his career, he has often heard that medicine and poetry do not mix. However, his experience says otherwise. Campo believes that poems offer the gateway to emotional connections that are critical during the healing process in conditions like depression.

“Sometimes physicians are so busy we can hardly keep our heads above water, and we are feeling so many pressures. Reading or writing poetry creates a space for empathy, for seeing another person, for bearing witness to our common humanity. Poetry, and the arts more generally, allow that chance to be human together with our patients,” he said to AAMC.

There is a deep historical link between poetry and physicians. Some of the famous physician-poets include William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894), and John Keats (1795-1821). When Keats was infected with tuberculosis in 1819, he ended up writing some of the finest poetry of his career. Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with inventing the word “anesthesia.” William Carlos Williams had a successful career as a doctor for almost four decades and was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Despite receiving medical training, John Keats (1795-1821) chose to become a poet rather than a practicing physician.
Despite receiving medical training, John Keats (1795-1821) chose to become a poet rather than a practicing physician. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

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