Social prescribing could help young people suffering with mental health problems, new research says.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s says referrals for non-clinical treatments could help to ease current pressure on child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) and help young patients ‘turn their lives around’.
The charity’s report ‘The Missing Link – Social Prescribing for Children and Young People’ was released earlier this month and urges the government to invest seriously in social prescribing for young people. It’s estimated that ‘around 1.4 million people under the age of 19 have a probable mental health disorder’.
Investing in enabling better support and access to activities via social prescribing could save money in the long run for the NHS, says Barnardo’s – with every pound spent now likely to reap £1.80 of benefit in the future.
Barnardo’s Chief executive Lynn Perry said current delays are making the crisis worse, saying: ‘Children and young people are having to wait for months, even years in many cases, to get the help and support they need when they are struggling with their mental health. Their condition often just intensifies while their names sit on long waiting lists.’
She added: ‘That’s why we’re calling on the government to put the backbones of funding and infrastructure in place to ensure social prescribing is available to all children and young people who need it throughout the country.’
The report acknowledged that social prescribing services across the UK are still evolving in many places, with training for link workers often focused on adults.
Co-author of the report, Becky Rice, said social prescribing could offer a sense of community to isolated families and help with school absence and anxiety.
Rise said: ‘Children and young people have been shut inside due to Covid, isolated from school, family, friends and the community, and now there’s the cost of living situation where families are struggling to afford essentials, let alone after-school clubs. They’ve been isolated from community assets – nature spaces, clubs, activities – which we know is having an impact on health and development.’
Last month, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said social prescribing could offer vulnerable patients a ‘vital lifeline’ and that doctors faced unique challenges because of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
The Times reported that a survey of 1,855 British GPs by the Royal College of General Practitioners found that around 75 per cent of doctors said they’d seen an increase in the number of patients struggling with issues associated with a poor diet and poverty.
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The research found that doctors in the UK are increasingly being asked to ‘prescribe’ basic welfare items such as shampoo and nappies by patients living in poverty.
Professor Hawthorne said: “Our GPs witness daily the devastating health effects that the rising cost of living and spiraling deprivation is having on patients in many communities across the UK. The link between poverty and worsening health has long been established, taking a physical, emotional, and psychological toll, which can result in the early development, or exacerbation of existing multiple chronic conditions.”
She added: “Our patients and our GPs deserve better. That’s why it is imperative that the government increases support for general practice and all our patients, with a particular focus on GP practices in deprived areas.”