Social Prescribing & Mental Health: An Overview8 Jun 2022
Our latest social prescribing blog is written in collaboration with Inside Out Wellbeing. Below, Ronelle Bloomfield highlights how social prescribers can help address patients’ social needs, and how this can benefit their mental health outcomes.
Social prescribing highlights the combination of social, economic and environmental factors that determine health outcomes. Accordingly, it aims to provide a holistic approach to supporting patients. A benefit of this is that patients are able to feel in greater control over their health, improving overall outcomes.
Data collected from patient outcome measures have shown that social prescribing leads to positive patient outcomes including:
- Better self-management (Reducing GP attendance)
- Improved mental and physical health
- Feeling less lonely and socially isolated
- Becoming more independent
- Accessing a wider range of welfare benefit entitlements
What are some of the challenges that social prescribers face?
Appointments are often a longer duration than GP appointments and there are more contacts. Due to this, clients often disclose their personal experiences of abuse to social prescribers. Therefore, it is essential that social prescribers receive adequate training to correctly respond to and report these concerns.
I will provide some examples of safeguarding concerns. One could be an elderly patient who discloses that her children restricted access to her bank card. Next, the social prescriber would checks if there is power of attorney in place. If there is none listed, the social prescriber subsequently reports this to adult social care. Finally, an investigation takes place to ascertain whether the patient is being financially abused.
Another example can be if a patient has disclosed domestic violence but has not called the police or informed anyone. As a social prescriber, it is important to clearly inform the patient of confidentiality practices when starting the session. This is because patients’ information is confidential unless there is cause for concern, i.e. harm to themselves or others, which must be reported. Patients also gain greater awareness of social prescribers’ duty of care to report abuse, building a better rapport.
Barriers to accessing services
Language and access barriers can make it difficult for patients to access services. In these cases, the social prescriber must provide necessary accommodations to help improve accessibility, including the use of interpreters. This means that social prescribers can engage with a greater number of patients, who can now access the services.
During the pandemic, many face-to-face services stopped, and all appointments took place over the phone. While this was necessary at the time, it caused issues for many deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. Unfortunately, many services only had phone lines and did not respond to emails which left some patients without help. As a social prescriber, I was able to make contact with services on behalf of these patients and arrange appointments with BSL interpreters.
Mental Health and Social Prescribing
It is clear that social issues can affect physical health, but what about mental health? Many issues, including homelessness or financial difficulty, can have negative impacts on a person’s mental health.
Often, patients can be overwhelmed when struggling with both their mental health and social issues. For example, a patient with anxiety who is facing homelessness may require further support. They may find it difficult to contact their housing officer for a general query or a specific issue, e.g. a housing application.
Therefore, overwhelmed patients can benefit from the added support of another individual acting on their behalf. However, it can be complex to provide a diagnosis because these patients may have other services involved already. Social prescribers can help by facilitating communication between services; improving patient access.
As a link worker, I have experience with patients who present with complex needs. One example was a patient, diagnosed with depression and anxiety, who believed that she was on the waiting list for talking therapies. Based on this information, I contacted talking therapies. However, I was informed that the patient had missed their previous calls/emails seeking to arrange an appointment. I was advised to ask the patient to self-refer again and to keep an eye out for when they make contact. Subsequently, the patient was able to speak with a therapist within a few weeks.
This means that link workers can also successfully help patients on waiting lists to receive interim support. Many patients describe their social needs as having a negative effect on their mental health. By providing social support, the patient feels supported with these needs despite their wait for mental health treatment.
Practical tools to support others
Social prescribers aim to support patients with a range of needs. Some practical ways they do this include:
- Referrals to mental health services
- Referrals to exercise
- Increased social support – access to community groups
- Contacting services on behalf of patients
- Supporting with application forms*
In conclusion, social prescribing can help a range of people with varying needs. If you feel like you would benefit from a referral, please speak to your GP. They can inform you whether social prescribing is available in your borough.
*Social prescribing is not a form-filling service. However, if patients have many barriers to accessing form filling services social prescribers might support these individuals. Please check how your borough operates as this varies.
- Social prescribing: applying all our health
- What is Social Prescribing? – National Academy for Social Prescribing
- Rotherham Social prescribing Pilot
Visit the London Social Prescribing Network Homepage to join our network.
See our previous case study on the intersectionality approach and social prescribing.
BAYO is a space to find collectives, organisations and services across the UK run by The Ubele Initiative, with and for the Black community, to support mental health and wellbeing.