Social Prescribing-What is it?


Social Prescribing-What is it?

The theme for this year’s mental health week was loneliness, it’s still imperative to think about all areas of mental health.

The pandemic has not only made some people feel more isolated than ever, but it has also increased things like health anxiety, but there are also global events (like the invasion of Ukraine and the rising inflation) has added the anxiety and stress than ever before.

We’re in the middle of a mental health crisis with 38% of general practitioners now having a mental health element, as compared with 25% before Covid.

This increased demand is making a strain on resources and people are simply struggling to get the help they need.

And, this is where social prescribing comes in handy.

What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing refers to when mental health professionals refer their patients to a range of local, non-clinical services to improve their health and wellbeing.

So social prescribing addresses people’s needs in a holistic way without any medications.

It works by encouraging people to engage in activities that are meaningful and they can enjoy, by connecting to other people.

Social prescribing is particularly used in primary care of general practitioners where social activities are focused on instead of medication, for mental health problems such as depression.

This can include activities such as exercise, playing sports, joining different community groups and NGOs, indulging in art, drama, volunteering and more.

What are the benefits?

It is now being recognised that our mental health services are heavily reliant on a medical approach then emotional distress.

This has led to one in six people taking antidepressants every year and the rates are higher for women, older people and poorer people.

While antidepressants and drugs can be beneficial for some people, they can also have side effects and can sometimes lead to addiction – so other alternative options need to be considered.

So, social prescribing is gradually being introduced as an alternative to antidepressants or other medications.

It avoids implying that there is something dysfunctional about people’s brains, for instance, the unproven “chemical imbalance” myth pedalled by the drug industry.

This approach encourages us to use our own resources to combat mental health problems.

It’s also more cost-effective as an initial option.

What’s the science behind it?

There’s growing evidence that social prescribing can lead to positive health and wellbeing.

Studies have proved in improvements of quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing as well, and a decrease in the levels of depression and anxiety.

One evaluation of a social prescribing project showed improvements in anxiety levels and feelings about health and quality of life.

In 2019, the NHS announced the inclusion of social prescribing into their inclusive model of personalized care.

This new model aims to allow people, especially those who have more complex needs, to take better control of their health and care. It also plans for a minimum of 900,000 people to be referred for social prescribing by the year 2023/24.

Social prescribing can work for many people, including those:

·       Having one or more long-term conditions.

·       who needs help with their mental health?

·       People who are lonely or isolated?

·       who has complex social needs affecting their wellbeing?

Are there disadvantages to social prescribing?

It’s worth noticing, those who suffer from social anxiety, social prescribing may work in the same way as exposure therapy, and the patient could feel forced to do a community activity.

So, some patients may find themselves in certain uncomfortable situations, which may increase their anxiety.

Another concern is that it might trivialize the pain and difficulty of loneliness which can easily be solved with some chat.

If a general practitioner gives someone a social prescription, he feels more disheartened and incompetent when he walked in.

But, overall, the benefits of social prescribing outweigh the disadvantages.

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