11 May 2022

On Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, a UEL professor encourages social prescribing as an alternative to mental health medication.

Dr John Read, professor in clinical psychology at the University of East London (UEL), writes in The Metro, saying that social prescribing can improve mental health and be used as an alternative to starting people on antidepressants or other medications.

Social prescribing is where the NHS or other healthcare services refer patients to non-clinical support in their local areas. This support can include exercise, sports, volunteering, community groups, art, drama and more.

It works primarily by encouraging people to engage in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to them, and connecting to other people," explains Dr Read.

"Social prescribing is the use - particularly in primary care (GPs) - of social activities instead of or in addition to medication, often for mental health problems such as depression," he continued.

The number of people seeking mental health support is increasing with 38 per cent of GP consultations now having a mental health element, compared with 25 per cent pre-Covid.

The growing demand is stretching healthcare services who usually respond by prescribing increasing numbers of antidepressants.

Professor Read argues that while antidepressants and drugs can benefit some people, they can also cause adverse side effects and risks and can sometimes lead to dependency - so in order to improve patient care alternative options must be considered.

"It is now recognised that our primary and mental health services have become grossly over-reliant on a medical model approach to emotional distress," said Dr Read.

"This has led, for example, to one in six people being prescribed antidepressants every year with even higher rates for women, older people and poorer people.

"Social prescribing avoids implying that there is something irreversibly dysfunctional about people's brains, i.e. the unproven 'chemical imbalance' myth generated by the drug industry.

"It encourages us to use our own resources and the resources of the community around us. This can support patients without drugs and save the NHS money," he concluded.

For more information see NHS England's page on social prescribing.

9 - 15 May is Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. The theme is tackling loneliness and for more information you can see on the Mental Health Foundation website.

For more information on studying psychology  at UEL, see our foundation pathways page.

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