Can art be "prescribed" by your doctor ?
Updated: Oct 28
Gone are the days when your local GP would prescribe some rest or antidepressants. Under the new “social prescribing” scheme, doctors are encouraged to prescribe dosages of art and culture to patients.
Social prescribing has become high on the Secretary of State for Health´s Agenda in the UK, and it is enabling primary care professionals to refer to people to a range of local, non clinical services including socially engaged art practices. The idea is that doing something creative and artistic with other people helps to reduce isolation, improve mental and physical health and wellbeing in general. These prescriptions could involve learning to play an instrument, participating in drama workshops, enrolling on a crafts class, collective creations of poetry, or improving your body with some new dance moves.
According to the research reviewed by the New Economics Foundation (2009), the most significant difference between people with good mental health and those without is social participation.
In the context of EU Managing Art Projects with Societal Impact (2016) by Ritta Ansttonen (et al) describe the artistic and creative practices as some of the most social, dynamic and participative human activities. Hence the impact of the arts is no only societal but also, cultural, aesthetic and economic. The book Enhancing Participation in the Arts in the EU by Victoria M, Ateca-Amestoy (et al) (2017) shows the results of a research project from the EU Culture Programe. The book measures the participation of art activities in Europe and how to promote activities to contribute to social inclusion, active citizenship and wellbeing.
How does social prescribing works?
Not only doctors can prescribe art and culture, museums and libraries are also becoming agents of change towards increasing people´s health and wellbeing.
Social prescribing involves helping patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services which might be run by the council or a local charity. For example, signposting people who have been diagnosed with dementia to local dementia support groups.
Community referrals, examples include volunteering, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, sports, and of course, art activities. Those who could benefit from social prescribing schemes include people with mild or long-term mental health problems, vulnerable groups, people who are socially isolated, and those who attend either primary or secondary health care.
The conference ´Social Prescribing: coming of age` in London 2018 looked at how social prescribing can be measured and the impact it is already having on outcomes for patients. Arabella Trissalin gave an amazing personal account of how social prescription enabled her to recover from mental health in a sustainable way.
What does social prescription mean to socially engaged arts?
There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and well being outcomes. Studies have pointed to improvements in areas such as quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety.
We are beginning to understand that participation and engagement helps us with our overall health. If we add arts and creativity to the equation, we see that participating in something artistic with other people increases our changes of better health and, in fact, it helps us to manage, reduce the need for medication, recover and overcome poor health.
This is an important call for not only the NHS in terms of reducing the costs, but also for local health centers community centers and organizations that seek to improve the health of the community through social prescribing. My belief is that practitioners with expertise in applied theatre, music and dance, will be sought after under the new social prescribing scheme as they have the tools to engage people together through the many shapes and forms of the arts.