Make social prescribing a priority for mental health
07 October 2022
This World Mental Health Day, Dr Marcello Bertotti is pushing for social prescribing to be more strongly focused on young people across the UK and internationally.
Dr Bertotti, reader in community health at the Institute for Connected Communities at the University, had an opinion piece published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health last week. It calls for the NHS to adopt the community-centred model for children age 11 and above accompanied by the further development of the evidence base.
Social prescribing is a service where doctors and other professionals can refer people suffering with mental health problems to connect and participate in community-based activities designed to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Specifically trained individuals called link workers connect people to chosen community support services that have a proven positive effect on wellbeing. Community support includes befriending services, arts and culture, sport, and nature-based activities.
Social prescribing has been introduced as an all-age service in the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan, but in practice has focussed primarily on adults and particularly on the over 50. Yet benefits to young people could be significant as a two-year evaluation of social prescribing for young people has demonstrated. As a result, Dr Bertotti and colleagues from other universities are arguing for the NHS to locate more resources to developing social prescribing for children and young people.
Dr Bertotti said,
The benefits of social prescribing for young people are potentially huge. Around one in six children in the UK now have a mental health problem. And three out of four people with mental health problems have experienced these by age of 25, as most start at an early age.
If you help young people early, there is growing evidence to show the huge benefits for them and society. The development of these early intervention programmes also means that the NHS would save a lot of resources which is crucial as healthcare budgets across the world continue to increase.
The oversight in largely ignoring children for referral is important given that this age represents a period when prevention and early intervention are likely to have the greatest effects on mental health outcomes. Secondly, global public health initiatives, such as the World Health Organisation Action Plan on non-communicable diseases, have revealed the importance of community engagement and community-centred approaches, particularly for reducing health inequalities.
These community-centred approaches (as well as child developmental theory) highlight the important contribution of connection and participation in groups and communities in preventing or improving mental health for children and young people."
As part of his role at the Institute for Connected Communities (ICC) at UEL, Dr Bertotti has been involved in several funded research projects on social prescribing for children and young people, including in Italy and Portugal.
He has also led the first evaluation of social prescribing for children and young people in the country, a two year study in Luton, Sheffield, and Brighton in collaboration with StreetGames, a national charity supporting young people.
The ICC has also contributed to an economic evidence review, social prescribing toolkit, national guidance for the NHS, training delivery for link workers, and coordinated research work on social prescribing for the Greater London Authority. World Mental Health Day is on 10 October 2022, and the theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is 'Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority'.
The Lancet is a respected and highly influential medical journal founded in 1823. Over the past two centuries, The Lancet has sought to address urgent topics in our society, initiate debate, put science into context, and influence decision makers around the world.
To read the piece visit The Lancet website. Please note you need to be a subscriber or purchase one-time access to read The Lancet.
Dan Hayes of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Paul Jarvis-Beesley of StreetGames, and Dr Kerryn Husk, University of Plymouth, Vashti Berry (Exeter Uni) co-authored the piece.
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