Helping people to help themselves through social prescribing has taken off in recent years as a way to boost mental and physical health by connecting people with activities in their community which can improve their wellbeing.
The initiative had been so successful that the NHS is now investing funds so social prescribing can be rolled out across GP practices in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
Many GPs are already offering the service and are able to refer patients to a local social prescriber link worker if they recognise they need support for conditions such as anxiety or depression but may not necessarily need medication.
The approach is to help people holistically by addressing the cause of their mental health issue which could be caused by issues such as social isolation, long term health conditions, bereavement, unemployment or debt. It is aimed at people who may be self-medicating to cope with their situations such as drinking or taking drugs and not exercising or eating well.
People who are referred may have up to six sessions with a link worker at their GP practice which will help to identify causes of anxiety and depression and they will work together to come up with a personal, goal-centred plan.
It could be that if social isolation is causing someone to feel withdrawn and depressed a goal could be to join a local book or gardening club or a regular coffee morning that can help to build their social circle and alleviate loneliness. Others may be put in touch with an exercise group to improve general wellbeing or an art class to help ease anxiety. Healthy eating and cooking groups, practical advice and support and volunteering opportunities are also available.
Link workers can also help people by guiding them with applications for benefits and grants or helping them manage their debts. They can also put them in touch with counselling services to help deal with traumas which can be preventing them from moving on with their lives.
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Evidence had shown that social prescribing is working and helps increase the confidence of those who take part, enabling people to take control and self-manage their personal situation, whilst experiencing physical, emotional and social challenges.
Colette Brown is a social prescribing coordinator at the Southmead Development Trust. She introduced social prescribing at the Trust four years ago and it has since been rolled out across North Bristol giving more than 187,000 residents access to eight link workers.
She said: “It a very popular service and has helped a lot of people. Often people will go to their GP because they have nowhere else to go and they are feel stuck and don’t know how to deal with their problems. The GP can refer them for social prescribing which is chance to them to be treated holistically and get to the root of their problems.
“Often it is the first time people are really listened to and can tell their story without being judged. We help and encourage them to find the solutions to their problems and build their self-esteem.
“Social prescribing gives them the skills to help themselves and more importantly gives people hope. Success for us is when someone can feel that can move on with their lives and sometimes seeing someone smile for the first time.”
To find out more about social prescribing talk to your GP.
Healthier Together Citizen’s Panel
The Healthier Together Citizen’s Panel is a public involvement initiative across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire made up of more than 1,000 people who form a representative cross-section of the region’s residents. It enables individuals to voice their views on health and care matters in their area, while helping to influence and shape the future of the area’s health and care services.
· Lifestyle changes, mental health awareness and stress reduction are cited by BNSSG residents as the three most effective measures that they could take to keep themselves healthy and well.
· However, two-thirds report that they do not find it easy to make these things happen.
· 76 per cent of BNSSG residents consider themselves likely to take action if they had a mental health worry.
· Those unlikely to take action either feel they do not know what steps to take of that they shouldn’t interfere or want to keep it to themselves.
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