MENTAL HEALTH CONTINUES TO BE A SIGNIFICANT PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE WITH APPROXIMATELY 1 IN 4 PEOPLE IN THE UK EXPERIENCING A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM EACH YEAR.
Mental health continues to be a significant public health issue with approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year.
While 23% of NHS activity is taken up by mental illness, mental health trusts have experienced continuous budget cuts, meaning waiting times for therapies is increasing and the number of medicines dispensed for anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic attacks has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that 78% of GPs had prescribed an antidepressant in the previous three years, despite believing that an alternative treatment might have been more appropriate.
It also found that 66% had done so because a suitable alternative was not available, 62% because there was a waiting list for the suitable alternative, and 33% because the patient requested antidepressants. Of the GPs surveyed, 60% said they would prescribe antidepressants less frequently if other options were available to them (Mental Health Foundation 2005)
While both medication and psychological therapies have a role, social prescribing provides a suitable alternative and further opportunity to respond effectively, and at an early stage, to symptoms of mental distress, as well as to initiate a more proactive approach to mental health promotion.
SOCIAL PRESCRIBING IS ONE ROUTE TO PROVIDING PSYCHO-SOCIAL OR PRACTICAL SUPPORT FOR:
- Children with ADHD, Autism or learning difficulties
- Vulnerable and/or people who are at risk, e.g. low-income single mothers, recently bereaved people, the elderly, people with chronic physical illness
- People with mild to moderate depression and anxiety or those who suffer from social isolation
- People with long term and enduring mental health problems
In order to re-shape mental health services, social prescribing has been identified as a means of self-management, connecting individuals into non-medical sources of support to improve their health and wellbeing, such as debt, housing and employment advice as well as exercise programmes and green space.
THIS INFOGRAPHIC OUTLINES 10 WAYS SOCIAL PRESCRIBING CAN IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH IN COMMUNITIES AND OFFER SERVICES THAT MEAN MORE THAN MEDICATION:
1. With up to 20% of GPs time estimated to be spent on dealing with social issues such as debt, housing and unemployment, social prescribing represents a way to manage mental health by taking a holistic, person-centred approach to wellbeing and addressing the wider determinants of health.
2. Social prescribing supports people with mental health to access non clinical services as part of a package of care. As a result, individuals are connected to multiple sources of support for social issues related to their mental health which contributes to improved psychological and social wellbeing.
3. In comparison to clinical prescriptions, social prescribing is a low cost, low complexity intervention which helps people to identify issues impacting on their mental health as well as signposting them to appropriate programmes and services which suit their needs and help them stay well.
4. Social prescribing creates a shared ownership between the Link/Social Worker and the individual, in which they can co-create a suitable social prescription, giving the individual responsibility and accountability of their mental health.
5. Social prescribing programmes and services such as Men’s Sheds and community gardening groups reduce social isolation as they provide opportunities for people to engage with their community, leading to increased inclusion, belonging and maximised social contact.
6. For vulnerable individuals or at-risk groups, taking part in community-based programmes and services enables them to manage their own health and wellbeing through increased prevention methods and supported self-care.
7. Social prescribing also presents the opportunity for individuals to learn new skills such as cooking, painting and mindfulness, with evidence showing that continuing to learn throughout life can improve and maintain our mental wellbeing.
8. Referring people into community programmes and non-clinical support can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, helping build a sense of purpose, and connecting with others.
9. For people who are suffering from anxiety, are depressed or have other long-term health problems, social prescribing helps to tackle the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. By taking a preventative approach, social prescribing helps people stay healthy through lifestyle changes instead of turning to medication.
10. Several social prescribing schemes have begun referring patients for charity work, such a scheme at the Imperial War Museum which offers “volunteering for veterans”. Not only do these services build confidence and reduce stress, but they offer people a sense of belonging and purpose which ultimately improves mental health.
With more organisations now adopting community and person-centred approaches to improving the mental health, we are pleased to see that the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England are working with VCSE organisations to deliver better health outcomes and support people, families and communities to manage their mental wellbeing.
The VCSE health and wellbeing fund 2019 is currently calling for applications from Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations to run projects focused on improving ch ildren and young people’s mental health. For more information, click here.