You feel unwell. You go to see your doctor to let her know you’re having trouble coping. Your job is causing you upset and you’re frustrated because everything is costing more money and you can’t make ends meet. You don’t feel like getting out of bed most days, and you have a variety of aches and pains. You want help to feel better and you’re hoping your family doctor can help. She reaches for her prescription pad but instead of giving you a pill to fight what makes you feel ill, she refers you to a link worker. This link worker can set you up with a financial advisor to stretch your dollars so you have a cushion at the end of the month. He also puts you in touch with a tai chi class to improve your physical strength and flexibility to improve your physical and mental state. A support group is recommended where you can meet with others struggling at their jobs and learn how to cope. This is social prescribing.
Social prescribing is a concept that has gained popularity worldwide but particularly in the U.K. where British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to make social prescribing by general practitioners a common practice by 2023. While definitions of social prescribing vary, it is a method of linking patients in care with support sources in the community. It is a form of preventative medicine aimed at improving quality of life and reducing reliance on doctors and the health care system. One study in the U.K. found that by simply connecting patients with a link worker and resources in the community improved quality of life and reduced doctor visits by over 25 percent.
Social prescribing helps to deal with a real problem facing our communities-social isolation and loneliness. Former surgeon-general of the United States, Dr.Vivek Murthy, called loneliness an epidemic, comparing its impact on health to smoking or morbid obesity. Ironically, Dr Murthy says “ We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.” Despite our connections via Facebook and other social platforms, we see increasing incidence of people feeling alone.
While connecting people socially with their community seems like an intuitive process, it may be just what the doctor or ordered-or will order in the future. Take care of yourselves and each other.