How can social prescribing support mental health?

MDDUS Medical Adviser Roopinder Brar looks at how social prescribing can support mental health.

Social prescribing is a way of helping patients deal with things in their life that make them feel anxious or unhappy.

While medication does have a role in managing and treating mental health illness, during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, as many struggle to deal with the impact of lockdown, it’s also important to remember the answer to a patient’s problems is not always hidden in a prescription for medication.

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year. Mental health continues to be a significant public health issue. One that deserves our attention, our investment and our commitment.

Mental health can be affected by a number of different factors such as housing problems, financial difficulties, unemployment, relationship breakdown and, particularly during Covid-19, isolation. Social prescribing has revolutionised the help and support that the primary care team can offer their patients. It is a practical and individualised way to provide assistance to patients who could benefit from more than just a prescription.

People’s health and wellbeing are influenced by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, so it only makes sense that the support we offer should take this into consideration too.

Taking a holistic approach to improving a patient’s mental wellbeing allows them to be referred to a range of local, non-clinical services, to support their health and wellbeing.

For example, a patient with depression and in debt may find practical advice about debt management just as beneficial as their prescription for antidepressants and having counselling.

A patient who is socially isolated and suffering with anxiety may find being given opportunities to engage with nature in their local community through projects such as community gardening groups - equally beneficial as receiving a prescription for medication or being referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Social prescribing puts patients in touch with a link worker who can help identify practical ways in which the patient’s life and wellbeing can be improved. It also allows individuals to take greater control of their own health. After all, isn’t being able to help patients feel more in control of their lives, health and wellbeing what we all ideally want? Social prescribing is one aspect of modern day medicine which goes beyond our prescription pads. It challenges our traditional approach to treating disease and illness.

In my own experience as a GP, I’ve come to view social prescribing as a system that can provide tailored, holistic treatment to patients whilst reducing the burden on primary care services.

I’ve seen it make a positive difference to the mental health resilience of patients whose needs extend beyond drugs and surgery, enabling them to access services in the community that meet their needs, restore independence and encourage positivity and equilibrium.