Social Prescribing has been getting a lot of press of late. From the numerous news articles coming out of the UK recently about the new practice of Doctors prescribing dance lessons, choir groups and gardening to combat loneliness and depression, to the hype around Johann Hari's bestselling book "Lost Connections" alongside the growing research into how art can improve mental health, it's certainly having it's moment.
But what is it? Really, it's a fancy term to describe when a community activity or resource is suggested as part of treatment to promote health and wellbeing. It sounds like a no-brainer, but given that billions of dollars is spent each year on pharmaceutical and psychiatric treatment for mental health, there is definitely an untapped rich vein of resources in every single community that, delivered appropriately could have enormous benefits in helping people feel mentally well. So if you have a book club, or a walking group, an art practice, or a hobby that provides moments of focus, flow, creativity and play -then this is a seriously effective part of caring for yourself!
Of course, dance class is not going to take the place of necessary medication or psychiatry, but for the growing numbers of people living with anxiety, stress, isolation, managing PTSD, or burn out, the embracing of creative habits, social groups and community connection by traditional medical fields helps wider society value these things more, take them more seriously. And, most importantly, they really do help people to feel good, connected, purposeful. They invite play into our lives.
There is no denying the evidence. Countless pilot programs in the UK reported dramatic changes in participants' sense of self-efficacy, mood, support network and extent to which mental health symptoms inhibited their daily life (NHS, 2018) after social prescribing trials. If we read anything about, say, anxiety, and understand that there are a range of physiological things happening in the body when we feel really anxious, it makes sense that picking up a pen, drawing, focusing on the page, making marks in a repetitive way - these all mirror what meditation does. Those tasks signal to our stress response that we are actually not in danger, they bring us out of our 'head' and into our 'body', they provide a sensory form of meditation that promotes calm, releases seratonin and shifts the overwhelm. But, that's not the whole picture...
“To end loneliness, you need other people—plus something else. You also need to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together—and “it” can be anything that you both think has meaning and value.”
― Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions
What we DO know, that's important to, is that the activity prescribed is important, but equally so, is who leads you there. Who teaches you, shows you the ropes, brings you in to the world of growing plants, or knitting with cosy wool, or painting, writing, dancing. The other important part of social prescribing that all the research tell us is that making these things a habit, a practice is vital, and the most powerful way to do that is with others. (Arts on Referral, Bristol UK)
This is certainly what we have witnessed and been curious about in the 6 years we have delivered skillshare classes in our community, that bring people together around a shared interest. The impact of connecting with others, in real life, and also strengthening the muscle of play, learning, creativity and focus through fun classes has a powerful impact. Our community have told us, over and over again, that participation in our skillshare classes improves their mood, lowers anxiety, helps them feel less isolated, and inspired.
MakeShift is our response to this. It is a social prescribing program that brings together highly skilled, compassionate artist facilitators with people seeking to alleviate anxiety, stress, burnout and a range of mental health challenges.