Social prescribing is a Hot Topic in 2018 for GPs and health professionals. But what is “social prescribing” and how can it help you to improve your life and wellbeing?
Social prescribing takes a holistic approach to healthcare. It allows GPs and health professionals to offer alternative, non-medical solutions to patients. Dance classes, walking groups or knitting clubs can have long-term positive effects. They’re fun, creative and can bring people together. Learning new skills and making friends makes people feel less isolated and lonely.
Local Ealing GP Dr. Aisha Newth, is clear on how she could use it in her practice.
“Social prescribing can be usedalongside traditional medicine and has huge long term benefits – especially to those who feel isolated or have mental health concerns”. Physical aches and pains, loneliness and diabetes can be helpedthrough social and fitness activities. “They help people to get out, to do more and to keep more active” she believes. This last point is important. When people make positive and permanent changes to their lifestyle – the benefits could last a lifetime.
And it works. In 2017, The University of Westminster published a report called “Making Sense of Social Prescribing”. The report stated that patients on SP schemes visited their GPs 28% less often and attended A&E 24% less than before. By extending the GP’s range of tools, it provides an alternative to drug prescriptions and reduces their workload.
Many of life’s problems can make you feel unwell. From loneliness and relationship difficulties to physical and mental health problems. Without the right support network, depression and feelings of anxiety can increase. People are also living longer and struggling to cope with long term conditions like dementia or diabetes.Dr. Newth believes that “getting active, a sense of community and meeting new people” are direct benefits of social prescribing.
One of the ways this is being taken up, is by GPs ‘prescribing’ gardening to their patients. The positive benefits of gardening as therapy are well known. People with dementia find it particularly beneficial. Being outdoors can help them to manage their condition as well as make them feel less lonely. Gardens reduce levels of depression, anxiety and stress. They improve older people’s balance and can benefit a range of conditions including heart disease and obesity. Hammersmith GP Dr James Cavanagh works with the charity Sustain and prescribes gardening to patients. He has seen an ‘enormous’ improvement in their confidence and happiness. ‘It wouldn’t matter if it was gardening or cooking or painting, as long as it’s a safe environment and they’re meeting people in a similar situation,’ he says. ‘It’s a force for good in getting isolated people back into the community.’
The therapeutic effect of group singing has also been in the news recently. Singing improves health and wellbeing. It releases positive neurochemicals such as β-endorphin, dopamine and serotonin into the system. Singing in a choir or as part of a group can help to build friendships. This is particularly valuable in a world where many of our social interactions are through social media sites.This article from The Conversation delves into the psychology of singing in a choir and all its associated benefits!
Social prescribing is gaining momentum in the UK. Patients involved see their doctors less often and have fewer drug prescriptions. They also put less pressure on the emergency services.
So, social prescribing seems to be working. And it’s important to keep the debate current. Because, there is evidence that our physical health, our mental health and our longevityis linkedto our social lives.
Listen to this fascinating TED Talk about the secret to a long life. It concerns the Italian island of Sardinia, a bunch of centenarians and their tight-knit community. On this tiny island there are 10 times as many centenarians as there are in North America. And it’s the only place where men live as long as women.
Earlier this year, the UK appointed a Minister for Loneliness and it’s said we are living in an ‘age of loneliness’. Maybeit’s time to embrace a new model of caring for ourselves and for other people.
And social prescribing is a great starting point.