Access to social prescribing services must be expanded to help tackle the mental health consequences of loneliness and isolation caused by Covid-19, according to a report published by two medical royal colleges.
The report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists shows that many people who would benefit from social prescribing stand to miss out as services are not evenly available across the country, largely due to variability in priority and spending between local areas.
The pandemic has caused loneliness – which is often linked to mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem – to reach record levels in the UK, the colleges argued, citing data from the Office for National Statistics that suggested 86% of women and 74% of men reported being lonely at the end of January.
Social prescribing sees patients prescribed activities – such as art classes, educational or training courses, and group gardening projects – to improve their physical and mental wellbeing and is crucial in combating loneliness and its mental health consequences.
Dr Katherine Kennet, lead author of the report and sustainability lead at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Covid-19 has shown just how damaging loneliness and isolation can be to our mental health, but social prescribing can play a big part in supporting people’s recovery as we move out of the pandemic.”
The colleges also called for healthcare commissioners to include social prescribing in community and inpatient mental health services and not limit programmes to primary care only.
Karin Orman, assistant director – professional practice at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, added: “The importance of social participation on maintaining good mental health has been amplified during the pandemic. Social prescribing clearly supports people’s wellbeing and occupational therapists can work with those whose needs are more complex and require a more tailored approach to actively engage and participate in social activities.”