Doctors set to prescribe surfing & dancing for anxiety, but will it actually help?

nhs social prescribing
GPs to prescribe young people surfing & dancingHill Street Studios

As part of the NHS’ ‘social prescribing’ scheme, young people will now be prescribed dancing, surfing, rollerskating and gardening, to see whether taking part in sport, the arts and outdoor activities could reduce anxious and depressive feelings.

The NHS will first offer these activities to 600 11-18-year-olds, in 10 parts of England, who are on their waiting lists for care. The trial is being run by academics from University College London, and those involved will also be able to take part in music, sport and exercise and attend youth clubs. Each young person will be able to choose which activity they want to try, with the help of a ‘buddy’ or link worker.

Providing the trial is successful, and the participants feel less anxious, depressed and lonely, the scheme could then be rolled out across England, to help the thousands of young people on the waiting list for formal care. Dr Daisy Fancourt, the UCL mental health expert running the trial, says three in four young people see their mental health deteriorate during this time, while waiting for treatment.

‘Social prescribing has the potential to support young people while they wait, by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that could enhance their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks,’ adding that ‘social prescribing’ has ‘enormous potential,' she says.

The trial seems to have come at the right time, when one in six young people are identified as having a mental health problem, and waiting lists are growing. But how many of them can feasibly travel to the seaside for a surfing session? And how many of them own a pair of roller skates?

If the trial does prove successful, experts plan to address these types of concerns, by assessing how much young people participate, how realistic it is to make these activities available and the costs involved. They will then decide whether this kind of ‘social prescribing’ is effective for young people.

Before now, this kind of scheme has only been tested on a very small scale, but participants did report a boost to their mental wellbeing, and a reduction in loneliness.

They said it ‘improved their sense of autonomy, reduced their sense of stigma around mental health challenges and filled a gap in mental health service provision by providing almost immediate access to non-clinically based emotional support’. They did, however, struggle with transport and the cost of some activities, which may be even more of an issue with the current cost of living.

‘Social prescribing’ is also in the process of being rolled out as an alternative antidepressant for adults. In August this year, a three-year trial began in which GPs will prescribe activities including cycling and walking, to help patients improve both their mental and physical health.

The trial is ongoing, but last week, the BMJ Open published a new study on 6,500 people, suggesting that ‘social prescribing’ did little for both mental wellbeing, and the reduced use of primary health services.

That said, with the cost of living and stress levels rising, ‘social prescribing’ (of affordable and realistic activities) could be more effective now, to save a few pennies on petrol and gym memberships, than ever before.

You Might Also Like