Doctors turn to ‘social prescriptions’ to combat depression and loneliness


A walk in the park or a dance class may help to combat symptoms of loneliness and depression.

Researchers have found that ‘social prescriptions’ help to improve people’s self-esteem and form social bonds.

Visiting museums, doing yoga, attending a dance class or even taking a stroll in the park may seem like simple pastimes, but these activities can be highly beneficial for your mental health and general well-being.

This is why doctors in countries like Canada and the UK have started providing patients who suffer from depression, loneliness or anxiety with social prescriptions instead of medical ones.

In an interview with Halifax Today, clinical psychologist Dr Simon Sherry explains the models of social prescriptions. “In the first model, your primary care doctor would issue you a prescription to complete a social activity within your community. This might be befriending someone else, it might be something like gardening or getting involved in the arts. The second model refers patients to a nurse or social worker who helps customise a ‘social prescription plan’.”

These social interactions through activities like dancing, arts and crafts and knitting have helped people form social bonds with their fellow participants.

Social interactions

Some organisations allow patients to offer what skills they have. Thereby, not only are they benefiting from the social interactions and the feeling of being needed, they are also helping those around them.

According to social worker and clinical psychologist Megan Rafuse, in an interview with Huffington Post, “What we know is that when we prioritise connection with others, we actually thrive in all aspects of our lives and offer ourselves a buffer against mental illness, including depression and anxiety.”

These kinds of prescriptions have received significant backing from the UK. British Health secretary Matt Hancock said in a speech last year, “We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration. Social prescribing can help us combat over-medicalising people.”

Speaking to Health 24’s Cybershrink Dr Michael Simpson, he noted that “The environment during (mental health) treatment is important. In the old days, an asylum (literally, a safe place) was often sited in the countryside, with fields, trees, and views considered to be therapeutic…For loneliness I often recommend that people get involved in helping other people : this brings them company, they meet nicer people than they’d meet at a club or bar, they help people who need help, and they get their own problems into better perspective.”

Not for everyone

Researchers have found that these social prescriptions have led to patients opting for a reduction in medication.

However, we need to take into consideration that mental health exists on a spectrum. Some patients may benefit from these social prescriptions whereas medication is beneficial to the health of others. Researchers are aware that these prescriptions won’t work for everyone.