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What is social prescribing and how it could help you

Published: 16 March 2021

Image of carer with resident

How others have benefited from it and what it means

Do you need a little support to help you overcome barriers or improve your health and wellbeing to help you get the most out of life? Social prescribing could be the ticket you or someone you care about needs.

International Social Prescribing Day shone a light last month on all things social prescribing. Following the day, we're sharing information about what social prescribing is, how it could help you and how it's benefited some Surrey residents.

What is social prescribing?

Loneliness, isolation, stress and anxiety can all become barriers to enjoying your life as much as you can and your ability to manage day-to-day. The social prescription service can help you find opportunities in your local community that could improve your health and wellbeing and support you to be independent.

Anyone aged 18 or over can benefit from social prescribing. A health or social care professional such as a GP, nurse or social care worker may suggest you access the service, or you can ask them to refer you if you think you would benefit from the support.

What does the service offer?

Once you are referred, you will have an in-depth conversation with a link worker about what is important to you and how your health and wellbeing could be improved. They will work with you to create a plan offering information and support in areas such as:

  • healthy lifestyles and physical activity
  • budgeting, debt and benefits
  • employment support
  • housing and the support to help you live independently
  • mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • opportunities to get out and meet new people.

Find out more about social prescribing on the Healthy Surrey website or read the latest blog on 'the day in the life of a social prescriber'.

Hear from some of Surrey's residents about how social prescribing has helped them

Kate

When Kate* first saw her social prescribing link worker, she was overweight and described herself as "being stuck in treacle". She was drinking heavily every night to cope with life and had been signed off work. She wanted to lose weight, cut down her drinking and return to work but had no idea how to get there. She was embarrassed about her appearance, hated exercise and had never owned a pair of trainers.

Through motivational interviewing with her link worker, Kate recalled her childhood love for dance. Kate and her link worker worked together to create a plan for her to achieve her goals. She joined a ladies-only gym that offered gentle dance classes and after a free trial at the gym she soon felt part of the community and made friends. Daily dance classes lifted her spirits, helped her lose two stone and she was no longer relying on alcohol to cope. After six weeks of counselling, Kate was able to return to work energised and is now committed to attending regular exercise classes.

Martin

Martin's* GP had concerns about his anxiety and social isolation, so referred him to social prescribing. Martin thought his life could be better if he spent less time at home on his own watching television, so his link worker shared options that were available to him in his community. This included Men in Sheds and a local coffee and chat group.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Martin's options suddenly shrank. Concerned about his loneliness, his link worker made weekly welfare calls and connected Martin to his local neighbourhood support group. This helped Martin feel much calmer, so he wanted to continue to increase his social contact. Martin visited Surrey's Virtual Wellbeing Hub and he selected an online coffee morning.

To help his anxiety, Martin's link worker referred him to a talking therapies service (IAPT) that offered six weeks of free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) by telephone. He got on well with his therapist and felt it made a difference to his ability to manage. Martin was very grateful for the support he had received during lockdown. He no longer felt alone, and he is now looking forward to getting involved with a new community garden project as soon as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Joan

Joan* was referred to social prescribing because she was suffering from anxiety. After a link worker talked her through some options, she was referred to Mind, a mental health charity, for help with anxiety and she also liked the sound of Getting Together Matters, which offered mindful colouring and connection to pen pals. Joan was keen to take part in activities online but didn't have digital access.

Getting Together Matters, a charity, now sends Joan colouring packs, puzzle books and pencils through the post every week and they've loaned her a tablet for three months. A volunteer supports her to use it so she can access online activities and feel more connected to people.

Mind has helped Joan with her anxiety and she's scheduled to take part in a five-week anxiety course. She's also felt able to take the advice of a pain clinic and go walking every day. She's pleased with the help she's received from social prescribing – "I don't know where I'd be without it".

*names changed for confidentiality.

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