Urgent Calls for a ‘Social Prescribing’ Strategy in England Amidst a Growing Youth Mental Health Crisis

credit: elim.org.uk

England (Parliament Politic Magazine) – New analysis suggests that each pound invested in enabling young people to access community activities and support could yield nearly twice the savings when it comes to addressing long-term mental health issues. In response to the growing youth mental health crisis, characterized by an overwhelming demand on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), the children’s charity Barnardo’s is advocating for the implementation of a national strategy for “social prescribing” for young people in England.

Social prescribing involves non-clinical interventions designed for children facing mental health challenges, including issues like isolation, anxiety, low mood, and low self-esteem. Its goal is to prevent these challenges from progressing into more severe mental health conditions.

Supporting The Young Person in Joining Activities

This could entail straightforward steps, such as motivating them to visit a nearby park, possibly by covering their bus fare, or assisting them in regaining confidence after negative experiences, like being stopped and searched. It might also encompass supporting the young person in joining group activities, exploring creative hobbies or sports, and guiding them towards counselling services while aiding with referrals to other healthcare and social services.

Referrals are initiated through GPs, teachers, and local authorities to connect children with a link worker. These link workers can align children with local services, addressing financial, cultural, or emotional barriers, and offering emotional support as needed.

Lynn Perry, the Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, emphasized that, based on the charity’s experiences with children and young people, these interventions have the potential to profoundly transform their lives and, crucially, reduce the demand for clinical NHS services. She focuses on the following:

Children and young people are having to wait for months, even years in many cases, to get the help and support they need when they are struggling with their mental health. Their condition often just intensifies while their names sit on long waiting lists,” she revealed.

“That’s why we’re calling on the government to put the backbones of funding and infrastructure in place to ensure social prescribing is available to all children and young people who need it throughout the country.”

Social Prescribing Holds Importance

Social prescribing holds significant importance, especially for families grappling with social exclusion, as emphasized by Becky Rice, the author of Barnardo’s report. It also serves as an essential tool to address the elevated levels of anxiety and school absenteeism among children. She further continues:

Children and young people have been shut inside due to COVID, isolated from school, family, friends and the community, and now there’s the cost of living situation where families are struggling to afford essentials, let alone after-school clubs. They’ve been isolated from community assets – nature spaces, clubs, activities – which we know is having an impact on health and development’’.

However, the report cautions that existing models of social prescribing and the training of link workers vary widely and are disjointed throughout the country. Moreover, these models predominantly concentrate on adults, lacking dedicated funding streams for children, despite their distinct needs.

According to Barnardo’s calculations, every £1 invested in social prescribing yields long-term benefits of approximately £1.80. These benefits extend to reduced strain on mental health services and encompass indirect effects such as decreased incidence of antisocial behavior, reduced A&E hospital visits, mitigated housing issues, fewer children placed in care, and lower rates of school truancy.

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Life Saving Impact of Social Prescribing

Considering that one in five GP appointments addresses non-clinical concerns, the Open Data Institute has approximated that social prescribing has the potential to reduce the annual demand for GP appointments by 2.5-3%, equating to 2.8 million to 3 million fewer appointments.

Kathryn Ridley attests to the life-saving impact of social prescribing. Her 14-year-old child, Beth, received crucial support from the Link service in Penrith when struggling to access assistance through CAMHS for mental health and gender identity issues, including isolation, panic attacks, hallucinations, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.

Upon a GP’s recommendation, the family was connected with a Link worker who established a trusting relationship with Beth. The Link worker offered emotional support and facilitated a referral for LGBTQ+ counselling. Additionally, Beth was accompanied to the Pride in North Cumbria (PiNC) youth charity. The Link worker also played a pivotal role in arranging a part-time school schedule and, subsequently, in obtaining an autism diagnosis for Beth.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.