The growth of doctors prescribing greater social connections, known as ‘social prescriptions,’ is growing as a counter to growing feelings of isolation throughout the population.
This is not just a case of physicians encouraging their patients to get out and see friends. Social medicine is more systematic and often involves encouraging the use of structured group interactions. Social prescribing attempts to meet people in the community where they are, and links them to social support structures.
The New York Times recently discussed social prescription by doctors in a thoughtful article discussing developments in the U.S. and the U.K.
Here are some passages from the article:
- Loneliness is a big issue. Any way we can develop connections can help.
- ‘Social prescriptions’ are already being written in Britain, where physicians can now direct patients to a “link worker,” a trained specialist who focuses on connecting patients to community groups and services for practical and emotional support. Link workers not only connect patients with existing groups but also help create new groups, working as needed with local partners.
- It’s not just older adults who benefit. Young patients with other chronic conditions and people with mental health issues. There are no age barriers, no limits on what social prescribing can support people with.
- What social prescribing reflects is a recognition that loneliness affects our health, and we have a universal need to connect with one another.
- This development of promoting social perceptions by doctors is linked to a larger shift in medicine toward a more holistic approach. We have to remember people don’t come to doctors with a list of medical problems; they come with a life, and a life that may have medical issues but also social and emotional issues.
- Doctors say that social prescribing may become the norm in the United States sooner than later. The pandemic has really opened up the door for this kind of thing. Doctors have used structured support groups as part of community programs, for example, such programs have been designed to improve the cardiovascular health.
- People recognize that it’s not that hard to log on to a virtual group meeting, and it can bring people together who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to.
“Doctors Are Prescribing Ways to Connect Socially for Those Feeling Isolated.” New York Times (May 25, 2021).
Here are some excerpts from an outstanding article discussing the exploding issue of anxiety and mental health issues among young people.
Nationally, young people across the nation increasingly are reporting rising rates of mental distress amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
While COVID-19 is a public health crisis, it’s created a parallel epidemic involving mental health — especially among younger people.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an annual observance to remind people of the importance of overall well-being. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the pandemic calls attention to the need to nurture both.
Among children ages 12 to 17 years old, NAMI reported, there was a 31% spike in mental health emergency room visits in 2020.
The high school years can be a roller coaster of emotions and stresses in the best of times as students worry about grades, social acceptance and admission to college. But the uncertainty of a pandemic, political polarization and this past year’s racial unrest further exacerbated those tensions.
This extends to older teens and young adults as well.
A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 63% of 18- to-24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 25% acknowledging increased substance use to deal with that stress and 25% saying they seriously had considered suicide.
Nationally among all adults, according to the CDC, 2 in 5 Americans report symptoms of anxiety or a mental health disorder — an alarming increase from 1 in 5 before the pandemic.
In Virginia, mental health concerns among adults have soared during the pandemic, according to interim results from COVIDsmart, a digital health study. The study is sponsored by the Eastern Virginia Medical School-Sentara Healthcare Analytics and Delivery Science Institute (HADSI), George Mason University and Vibrent Health.
Of the more than 450 people who participated in the study in March, nearly 1 in 4 reported experiencing signs and symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety (22%) or moderate to severe depression (24%). That’s three times greater than before the pandemic, when in 2019 6% of adults in the U.S. reported moderate or severe anxiety and 7% reported moderate or severe depression, according to Dr. Sunita Dodani, director of HADSI and principal investigator of the study.
But remember, anxiety and depression strike all ages.
“Mental Health Week.” RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH (May 8, 2021).