How Can Social Prescribing Support Mental Health in the UK During Economic Recession?

April 16, 2024

As we navigate through ticklish economic times, the UK is grappling with the increasing pressure on the national health system. Among other health-related concerns, mental health emerges as a key issue, intensified by the current economic recession. For many, the strain on finances, job insecurity, and the dread of the unknown can lead to an onset or worsening of mental health problems. However, there’s a ray of hope in all this uncertainty: social prescribing.

Social prescribing – the practice of linking patients with non-medical support services in the community – has shown promise in supporting mental health. It provides a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that goes beyond traditional clinical treatments. In this piece, we will delve deeper into this innovative approach, highlighting how it can support mental health during these challenging times.

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Understanding Social Prescribing

Social Prescribing, also known as community referral, is a process where health professionals such as GPs, nurses, and social workers refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. These services might include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice, and a variety of sports.

Social prescribing aims to address people’s needs in a holistic way and offer them support and guidance to improve their mental health and wellbeing. It provides links to the community and voluntary sector services, which can help people manage their own health and improve their quality of life.

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The Impact of Social Prescribing on Mental Health

There’s a growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of social prescribing in improving mental health. It contributes to alleviating anxiety, stress, and depression, enabling individuals to lead happier and healthier lives. It offers people the opportunity to take greater control of their own health, fostering a sense of autonomy and empowerment.

Some social prescriptions also encourage physical activity, which is known to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Activities such as gardening or participating in a sports group can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, offering therapeutic benefits that complement traditional mental health treatments.

The Role of Health and Social Care Workers

The role of health and social care workers is crucial in the implementation of social prescribing. These professionals engage patients in conversations about what matter to them and explore the issues affecting their health. This information forms the basis of a personalised care and support plan, which includes referrals to community and voluntary services.

By providing a link between patients and community services, these workers play an essential role in connecting individuals with the suitable support and help they need. This connection can be particularly beneficial for individuals suffering from mental health problems, who may feel isolated or disconnected from their communities.

Social Prescribing in Practice

In practice, social prescribing often starts at a GP surgery. When a patient presents with non-medical issues that are impacting their health, the GP or another health professional within the practice may suggest social prescribing. They will discuss the patient’s needs and interests and recommend appropriate community services or activities.

The referral process may involve a community link worker or a social prescribing coordinator. They are responsible for connecting the patient with the right services, providing the necessary information and support to help the patient engage with these services. This may include helping with travel arrangements or accompanying the patient to sessions until they feel comfortable attending alone.

Economic Recession and Social Prescribing: The Connection

In times of economic recession, the demand for mental health services often surpasses the supply, with public health funds stretched thin. This is where the value of social prescribing comes into play. By providing a cost-effective way to support mental health, social prescribing can help alleviate the pressure on healthcare services during an economic downturn.

Moreover, social prescribing can offer help to those affected by the financial strain caused by the recession. Community services can provide support on issues such as debt, unemployment, or housing – all of which may contribute to mental health problems. By tackling these issues, social prescribing can help improve the overall wellbeing of individuals, reducing the need for more intensive mental health interventions.

Social Prescribing in Support of Young People’s Mental Health

Young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems, especially during times of economic recession. The uncertainty of the future, job insecurity, and potential financial difficulties can exacerbate the stress and anxiety they may already be experiencing. This is where social prescribing becomes particularly significant.

To address this concern, social prescribing services have increasingly been targeted towards children and young people. The focus is on providing activities that can help to improve their mental health and wellbeing, build resilience, and provide them with essential life skills. This includes recreational activities, peer support groups, workshops on topics such as coping with stress, and volunteering opportunities which can help in gaining confidence and skills for the future.

For instance, a young person experiencing anxiety due to exam pressure might be referred to a local study group or mindfulness sessions. A teenager struggling with social isolation might be connected with a local youth club, fostering a sense of belonging and reducing feelings of loneliness.

Link workers play a crucial role in this process. They work closely with young people to understand their preferences, needs, and circumstances, and then connect them with suitable community resources. They can also provide vital support to parents, teachers, and other adults involved in the young person’s life, offering advice and resources to help them better support the young person’s mental health.

In essence, social prescribing offers a person-centred approach to supporting young people’s mental health, complementing traditional healthcare services and contributing towards a long-term improvement in their mental wellbeing.

Conclusion: The Role of Social Prescribing in Public Health

As the UK navigates through economically challenging times, the importance of social prescribing in supporting mental health cannot be overstated. The strain of an economic recession can exacerbate mental health problems, creating a demand for mental health services that may outstrip supply. However, social prescribing offers a practical, cost-effective solution that can help to bridge the gap.

By linking individuals with non-clinical community services, social prescribing addresses mental health concerns in a holistic way, considering the broader social factors that contribute to mental health problems. It empowers individuals to take an active role in managing their health, fostering a sense of autonomy and resilience. In particular, it provides critical support to young people, who may be especially vulnerable during times of economic uncertainty.

Moreover, health and social care professionals, particularly link workers, play a crucial role in implementing social prescribing. They form a vital bridge between individuals and the community resources they need, offering support and guidance throughout the process.

In conclusion, social prescribing represents a significant step forward in the UK’s approach to mental health care. As public health services continue to face pressure amidst economic recession, this innovative approach offers a promising way to support mental health in the community, particularly for children and young people. To maximise its impact, continued investment and research into effective social prescribing practices is essential. By doing so, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has access to the support they need to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.