Can social prescribing improve our health and outlook on life?
Is Social Prescribing The Answer?
Two years of living in a global pandemic has changed so many staples in people’s lives. COVID has affected each and every one of us. It has affected how we feel about life. It has affected how we think and assess everyday situations and it has significantly affected how we behave and connect. It is no surprise that we have seen such a rise in mental health issues. People’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing have all been hit.
Studies show that over 22% of Australians are experiencing mild mental health issues and for many, this is a new experience that brings with it stigmas and challenges. The anxiety and stress that arises from maintaining a household, caring for loved ones or juggling education and work can often be wrongly perceived as negligible. Not to mention the impact of COVID and lockdowns on our ability to connect with one another, with more and more of our members reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness.
People are scared to reach out for help in these situations when on the contrary, early intervention is exactly what they need. At Live Life Get Active we see many of our members worn down by the pressures of everyday life yet unable or unwilling to seek help. Which is why we believe that the rise of alternative treatment paths such as social prescribing will be integral to the future of mental health for everyday Australians. Not only can social prescribing alleviate stigmas around seeking treatment but it can reduce the burden on medical professionals.
The Rise of Mental Health Issues
During our 8 years of operation, Live Life Get Active has had 90,000 members provide us with extensive data at the time of registration and again at regular intervals. The data collected from the members is categorised and compared by using domestic and internationally approved scoring systems such as AUSDRISK, WHO Obesity Scoring, K10, and scoring in areas and frequency of anxiety.
What we have seen is that from 2019 onwards, there has been a significant increase in the members moving from the mild to medium mental health rating. These individuals are those from “likely to be well” to being in the “mild to mild moderate cusp”, we have seen a percentage increase from 24% to 29% in the last 3 years. They are well suited to early intervention treatment paths such as social prescribing to ensure their condition does not worsen. However, very few Australians are receiving any level of formalised treatment for their issues. We found that only 27% of members suffering from mild to medium mental disorders were seeking treatment.
“Live Life Get Active camps help me in many ways. I have anxiety, depression, PTSD, issues with my back and neck. I started two sessions a week and now attend four sessions a week and hopefully soon 5 sessions a week. The other lovely camp members and myself have noticed my changes and improvements. I love this camp. I love that it’s free. I love how I feel after the camp every session. This camp is a huge part of my get fit active healthy journey.” – Kerrie, LLGA Member.
Challenges Brought By A Stressed Healthcare System
On top of more people experiencing mental health symptoms, there are now, more than ever, greater challenges when it comes to seeking treatment, primarily, the pressures on the healthcare system in the past two years. These days, even getting a 20-minute face to face appointment with a doctor can be difficult. A lack of in-person consultations means there is less time to discuss what is really going on in the patient’s life. Unfortunately, medical professionals are often forced to diagnose and treat the most glaring of problems.
Many medical professionals have been pushed to breaking point by the sheer weight of Covid, new protocols and a workforce spread thin. These conditions are curtailing the ability to treat and identify underlying mental health issues. This is why there has never been a better time to support our traditional treatment paths by giving patients greater control through education, upskilling and community. Social prescribing provides doctors with a referral option that is suitable for early intervention for complex needs and therefore reduces pressures on other parts of the system.
LLGA has helped me to become more motivated and concentrate on my health and well-being. It has definitely altered my negative and depressed mood into a much more positive, determined and cheerful person. I was also able to communicate with other members from my group who had previously felt as I did but now support and uplift me. – Richie, LLGA Member.
The Role Stigma Plays In Seeking Help
Current treatment options such as psychologists, therapists and medication bring with them stigmas that have been proven to deter many patients. Particularly for those in the mild-medium bracket that do not associate their issues and symptoms with that “level” of treatment. Despite perceptions around mental health coming leaps and bounds in recent years, individuals are still reluctant to seek treatment, for fear of being judged, not taken seriously, or other stigmas such as:
- The stigma around needing help means that you must be severely depressed or have debilitating mental health issues.
- A lack of understanding about what constitutes mild mental illness.
- People are led to perceive that suffering from poor mental health is a weakness or vulnerability.
- The media also has a role to play, with many portrayals of people with mental health conditions being sensationalist and often with negative portrayals.
These stigmas are damaging to the health and wellbeing of society, as delaying treatment can lead to a worsening of mental health symptoms and other chronic conditions. Whilst many people wait to seek treatment until their condition worsens, there is extensive evidence that shows early intervention can lead to a more positive outcome.
“LLGA is such a supportive group of people, who encourage everyone to workout at their own pace. These camps are great for improving my fitness and excellent for my mental health by helping me get out of the house and socialise, especially during these current times after lockdowns.” – Dan, LLGA member.
When we consider the rise in mental health issues, a stretched healthcare system, and stigmas surrounding treatment, there is a clear need for alternative treatment options for everyday Australians. Solutions that present low-stigma can be quickly and easily prescribed by a doctor and, are proven to work.
Social Prescribing As A Solution
The use of an interconnected network of partners to support better patient outcomes beyond the traditional doctor/patient relationship, has been heralded as the future of healthcare by both NSW Health, VIC Health and the Federal Government. Social prescribing programs are set in the community, with no cost to the patient and are generally focused around a shared activity that does not need to be directly related to mental health. They provide normality, with no stigma. Patients aren’t signing up for a clinical service, instead it is a community event that has benefits to their mental wellbeing.
Research studies coming out of the UK suggest that social prescribing could reduce GP visitation by 28% and A&E by up to 25%. Alleviating serious stress on an already resource limited system, the NHS itself is expecting over 900,000 social prescribing referrals by year end 2023. Creating a connected network of providers for a national social prescribing program will take time and needs further support from all levels of government.
Since 2019, Live Life Get Active has been expanding our own program, Positive Prescription, which began with just one trial location and now includes over 300 practices around the country, and brings in hundreds of referrals by doctors each month. Doctors are given an easy-to-use referral portal on our website, with which they enter the patient’s name and email. The patient is then sent a series of instructions on how to sign up and enjoy our free in-park and online exercise classes. They are provided with encouragement, motivation, and we share with them the inspirational stories of everyday members who have improved their lives. Importantly they are benchmarked using our scoring system, which is updated every ten weeks to show shifts in risk.
Our program began by targeting doctor whose practices were close to an outdoor exercise camp such as the Bridgeview Medical Centre and our Toongabbie camp. At this camp, in the first 20 weeks we saw a 1% improvement in K10 scores, 9% improvement in obesity risk, average weight loss of 3kg, waist circumference loss of 4cms and a 13% improvement in diabetic risk. With 192 individuals joining the local camp.
“Working in Western Sydney has always been a challenge especially working amongst a multicultural community predisposed to serious lifestyle-based diseases like Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease etc. Live Life Get Active patient-friendly programs were well received and attended resulting in a positive improvement in overall health both physically and psychologically Social prescribing is now an important part of patient management.” – Dr Shanthini Seelan, GP Principal at Bridgeview Medical Centre, Toongabbie.
We believe strongly in the impact social prescribing can have on the physical, mental and social health of our communities. It’s a strategy that can be supported by commercial organisations as well as our healthcare networks and government departments. It could save millions of dollars, and we believe if adopted nationwide, it can be the ground force to build a fitter, healthier and Happier Australia.
If you would like to know more about Live Life Get Actives Social Prescribing program and the metrics it can deliver please contact our CEO Amanda King – [email protected]
About Live Life Get Active
In 7 years Live Life Get Active has launched 245 community programs specifically aimed at getting people up active and socialising. Collected data from over 90,000 individuals across the country. Recorded shifts in risk from 10 weeks to 4 years across chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes and mental health. We believe that social prescribing is the foundation of change.