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Social activities prescribed to boost youth mental health

Words by Abi Scaife

Doctors in the UK will soon be prescribing surfing, rollerskating and dancing to teenagers with social anxiety.

Wait, seriously?

Yep - and a bunch of other activities like rollerskating, gardening and more will be on that list too.

Tell me more.

With hundreds of young people on the waiting list for mental health services through the NHS, GPs are turning to other, less traditional, methods to help out. It’s called ‘social prescribing’ - a phenomenon that is becoming more and more popular. 

So, what exactly *is* social prescribing?

Social prescribing is exactly what it sounds like - doctors prescribing social activities that have been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. The activities being suggested by doctors often include some kind of physical movement, which releases endorphins, as well as a level of social interaction.

Okay, but is this going to replace treatments like therapy and medication?

Not at all - in this case, social prescribing is a way to prevent mental health conditions from worsening while on a waiting list for other services. For some people, the activities suggested by doctors will have a huge effect, and they may no longer feel the need to pursue other treatments.

For others, it may simply be enough to tide them over until they can receive the necessary treatment. In any case, it’s definitely meant to be used with other treatments, not as a replacement.

Phew! Now, where do I sign up?

Hold on - we’re not quite there yet. Trials have been performed in several cities across the UK since the 2010s, and the University College London is about to embark on the biggest yet. The study will be performed on 600 11-18 year olds who are on the waiting list for mental health treatment and, based on the results, the NHS may adopt similar procedures nationwide.

What did those other studies find?

Previous studies have been successful - social prescribing was found to improve people’s personal and mental wellbeing, especially for people who were struggling with loneliness. So, while we’re still only at the trial stage, it looks like there is hope.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs