Social prescribing could help tackle the mental health consequences of loneliness and isolation caused by COVID-19, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales said today.
The call comes during Mental Health Awareness Week – which this year focuses on the theme of nature.
Latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows 86% of women and 74% of men across the UK - reported being lonely at the end of January.
Now RCPsych in Wales is calling for more uptake of social prescribing which sees patients prescribed activities such as art classes and gardening projects as a way of combatting loneliness and the effects on people’s mental health.
The College is also calling for this type of treatment to be made available for everyone, regardless of where they live.
And for it to be made available in community and inpatient mental health services as well as primary care - as people’s mental and physical health stand to benefit from social prescribing schemes.
Dr Adarsh Shetty, consultant psychiatrist, RCPsych in Wales, said:
"The pandemic has been particularly hard and damaging in terms of loneliness and isolation. It can have an enormous effect on our mental health, but social prescribing can play a huge part in helping with people’s recovery.
“As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week and why nature is so important in wellbeing and mental health - it is worth highlighting the many benefits of social prescribing in allowing mental health services to secure the best outcome for their patients.
“But it must be available as a treatment for everyone, regardless of where they live.
“It is crucial social prescribing is used to complement existing treatments and should not be used as a substitute for talking therapies or medical interventions.”
There has been a good start in expanding service provision in Wales.
Cynon Valley Organic Adventures has partnered with researchers to create a nature trail to explore the benefits of green ‘social prescribing’ on health, wellbeing and quality of life. The trail in Abercynon also provides opportunities for GP referrals and for community members to take part in nature-based activities.
Rebecca Lees is a writer and communications manager who lives near Pontypridd. She’s also an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion, which is an ambassador role encouraging people to enjoy being in nature safely and responsibly. Rebecca said:
“I try to spend at least 20 minutes outside every day, usually first thing in the morning before the bustle starts. Getting out sets me up for the day, clears my mind and helps me solve problems.
“In my 20s and 30s I didn’t make enough time to be outdoors and was often burnt-out and exhausted. Following bereavement and some life and health challenges, walking and running are now two of my cornerstones, along with getting lots of sleep and trying not to book too much in.
“I really enjoyed many aspects of lockdown, such as how loud the birds sounded and how peaceful the streets were! It also gave me a chance to explore new routes close to home and find out about the urban nature on my doorstep.
“It’s easy to be in awe of some of the big physical challenges we see other people doing on social media but, for me, it’s about the small wins and just making an effort to get out a few times a week. Someone recently said to me: ‘Nurture nature and it nurtures you back’ and, I promise, it does!”
The UK College recently published a position statement on social prescribing.