The power of social prescribing

“We talk. It helps. Turns out that how I feel is very normal and completely ok.”

In NW London the NHS are working to develop a digital social prescribing solution to make social prescribing an easy and safe practice for both GPs and patients. This is a fairly new approach for GPs, but one that benefitted one member of NW London’s NHS staff.

Social prescribing was thrust into the limelight this October, when the Government launched its first ever ‘Loneliness’ strategy. There are very real medical symptoms that people experience due to loneliness and it has been reported that loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

So what is social prescribing and how can it help?

Social prescribing is a way for GPs to help their patients, who are suffering symptoms caused by loneliness, by referring them to social activities or services in their community instead of offering only a medical solution.

In this personal account Lindsay Topham a member of NHS staff talks us through her experiences with mental health and how social prescribing pulled her back from the brink.

Me: “I think I am depressed!

My symptoms:

Mood: “Low. Not only is my mood low, but I have taken to listening to Adele’s entire back catalogue to make myself feel even lower. So I can really indulge in it

Anger levels: “Skyscraper high with accompanying short fuse. I have plotted the demise of the every person on the tube who breaths too loudly

Weight gain: “Extreme. I am getting fat just watching Bake Off. That is a lie, I am getting fat because chocolate equates to 76 per cent of my diet

Relationship with: “Mum/friends/colleagues/train crush*: Non-existent as have chosen to stay in and complete Netflix

*relationship with train crush is non-existent but for different reasons

Energy levels: “At my lowest moment, I opened the window next to the sofa I was sat on so my takeaway delivery man could hand me my take away without me having to get up.

“I decide to book an appointment with my GP after someone offers me their seat on the tube and I break down into uncontrollable tears. This cannot go on.

“I start by explaining that in 2017 I snapped my Achilles tendon twice and spent eight months on crutches resulting in the ‘Big Sit Down’ of 2017. With only one working leg I became too scared to go out and due to the length of my recovery time, my friends (rightly so) got on with their lives without me. It started the spiral, where I stopped going out/seeing people/looking after myself. But this cannot possibly be linked to how I am feeling now, right?

“The GP kindly informs me that she thinks I might be suffering from loneliness. It started with a lengthy stay at home where I only had one working leg and I didn’t go anywhere, and it continued to manifest itself after my leg got better. My GP goes on to explain that loneliness actually has a huge negative effect on your mental health, and therefore also your physical health and probably explains why I have been feeling depressed. I am not alone she informs me, there are nine million lonely people in the UK.

“The GP recommends searching voluntary sector or community services to find an activity I enjoy, where I could meet likeminded people. Maybe join a sports club or a book club. Something that once a week gets me out the house.

“I left the surgery feeling thoroughly underwhelmed and peeved that I don’t have a year’s supply of Valium. But maybe a GP with £1million of training may have a point. So I join a local running club and book into their beginner’s course. I even make a couple of new pals. I start running once or twice a week and call my friends to apologise for hibernation. We talk. It helps. Turns out that how I feel is very normal and completely ok.  I start looking after myself and stop binge eating share bag of Maltesers.

“My mood begins to lift and energy levels rise – some days I have more energy than the entire cast of Wicked.

“The point is sometimes your health doesn’t need to be managed by pills. Sometimes a social prescribing offer is exactly what someone needs to manage their health. We have to start accepting that social isolation and loneliness have a negative impact on health and there is help out there for you.”

Lindsay works as part of the NW London digital innovation team and her own experience is helping to drive the development of a digital social prescribing option that will make social prescribing an easy and safe practice for both GPs and patients, so more people can benefit, like her.

Lindsay’s experience highlights just one example of how social support can help. GPs who are fully set up to social prescribe can also refer to patients to a community link support worker who will work with individuals to help them find the right community services and support they need. More information about social prescribing can be found in this short video from the Healthy London Partnership.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The North West London health and care partnership is made up of over 30 NHS and local authority organisations. Between us, we plan, buy and provide health and care services for more than two million local residents across eight boroughs, spending around £4 billion per year. There are 400 GP practices, ten hospitals and four mental health and community health trusts across the eight boroughs. Find out more here.
  2. More information about the work of the North West London Digital Innovation Team can be found on the Healthier North West London website
  3. The Government’s Loneliness strategy was launched on 15 October 2018 - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-launches-governments-first-loneliness-strategy