What is social prescribing?

Posted by
Hannah Hambleton
August 3, 2022

Social prescribing is a relatively new, alternative approach to health. It's where health professionals refer patients to support programmes in the community to improve their health, wellbeing, and mental health. As part of a social prescribing approach, doctors prescribe into a sport or social activities rather than straight onto traditional medication such as antidepressants.

Who does social prescribing work for?

Social prescribing takes a holistic approach, connecting people with local groups for practical and emotional support. 

Social prescribing works for different groups of people, including: 

  • people with one or more long-term conditions
  • people needing mental health support
  • those who are lonely or isolated
  • people have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing

Social prescribing can use activities such as sports, arts and crafts and volunteering. In addition, many social prescribing programmes focus on improving mental health and physical wellbeing.

Social prescribing and exercise: increasing dopamine

People often don't realise how much sport and exercise can benefit their physical and mental health. And these benefits are for two main reasons. Firstly, being part of a group and feeling a sense of belonging can significantly help mental health. The impact of COVID, where access to this type of group support was reduced, has been massive across society. 

Secondly, the dopamine-boosting effect of exercise can have massive positive impacts, especially on depression and anxiety. When taking medication such as antidepressants, the number of neurotransmitters in the brain increases. This increases the amount of 'happy' hormones such as dopamine, helping people feel better and more positive. Exercise has the same effect, reducing reliance on prescription medication, which has traditionally been the first approach.

As Joe Lockley from Brightstar explains, 'If the benefits of exercise could be bottled, it would be the best medicine that's ever been made'.

Of course, it's often harder to be motivated to increase exercise, which is why group environments and socially prescribed support to encourage the feeling of belonging can be so effective.

Social prescribing through boxing with Brightstar Counterpunch

Brightstar social prescribing

We know how powerful boxing is in improving mental health and wellbeing. Our Counterpunch programme uses boxing and talking to support young people and adults across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, using the exercise to drive positive mental and physical impacts.

Brightstar is working closely with the Shropshire Council Social Prescribing Team to offer more opportunities for young people struggling to manage their mental health. A vital part of this pilot programme is to increase the support for young people (many of whom have experienced trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences) to access support through the Counterpunch programme.

Counterpunch uses a powerful combination of talking therapy and boxing, supporting young people holistically to manage their health and wellbeing. Although the programme is relatively new, we're seeing improvements in mental health, self-confidence and anger management. The programme is currently running in Brookside in Telford, and Ludlow and Bishops Castle in Shropshire, allowing young people struggling with their mental health to be referred to our sessions and access socially prescribed support.

Does social prescribing work?

Although social prescribing is relatively new, initial evidence supports that social prescribing, especially through sport and physical activity, leads to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes. These outcomes can include improved quality of life, mental and physical wellbeing, and decreased depression and anxiety.

Many young people need support for their mental health and wellbeing. Social prescribing through sport offers a community-based approach, supporting the NHS and GPs in managing an often complex increase in service demand.

We're excited to be part of this relatively new approach, increasing the access to support for young people.

To find out more about the Brightstar social prescribing programme, or Counterpunch, contact Joe Lockley at [email protected] or 07966 416267.

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