Social prescribing: What is it, and how does it impact mental health?

People with mild or long-term mental health problems, socially isolated people and those with complex needs can benefit from this.

Social prescribing: What is it, and how does it impact mental health?
© Getty/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc
Social prescribing: What is it, and how does it impact mental health?

Disturbing world events like the ongoing war in Ukraine, climate change concerns, and global economic uncertainties, coupled with the pressures and anxieties of one’s personal life, take a huge toll on mental health.

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Many people are suffering from spells of depression and numbing anxiety, putting pressure on limited mental care facilities. In comes social prescribing, an alternative and hopefully more sustainable way of managing mental health problems in people.

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What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing or community referral is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services, according to the UK Charity, The King’s Fund. So, instead of turning to medication, doctors and other healthcare providers seek more holistic alternatives to addressing people’s mental health issues. A professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London, Dr John Read explains to

It works primarily by encouraging people to engage in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to them, and connecting to other people.

These social activities may include volunteering, engaging in sports, exercising or getting involved in community organizing.

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Who benefits?

It is estimated that one in six people are being prescribed anti-depressants every year, with women and other marginalized groups being made to rely on medication. According to the National Health Service, social prescribing could be of benefit to people

  • With one or more long-term conditions
  • Who need support with their mental health
  • Who are lonely or isolated
  • Who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

Although all these groups of people can benefit from medication, an overreliance on drugs has not been 100% effective in addressing some of these issues which stem from emotional distress. Dr Read explains:

It [social prescribing] avoids implying that there is something irreversibly dysfunctional about people’s brains (e.g. the unproven “chemical imbalance” myth generated by the drug industry). And it encourages us to use our own resources and the resources of the community around us.

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