Rachael Hamilton is Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Social prescribing offers new ways of boosting mental health

It was recently reported that antidepressant usage in the Borders is on the rise. ISD Scotland figures showed that defined daily doses have increased from 3.5 million in 2009/10 to 6.6 million in 2018/19 across the Borders. The Borders has one of the highest defined daily dose rates in Scotland, well above the national average.

Whilst antidepressant usage on the rise is a worrying trend, we know that for many, it is the best form of treatment. For others however, there are the benefits of social prescribing.

Social prescribing can range from sport, to exercise and movement, which have all shown to have beneficial effects on mental health. Some social prescribing takes places indoors, such as in an art or yoga class, whilst outdoor activities can be anything from a gentle stroll along a riverbank, to climbing Munros.

Not only does social prescribing help boost mental health, it tackles social isolation too. In rural areas such as the Borders, this is vitally important given the remoteness of some villages. Spring Social Prescribing, which is a community-led and holistic approach to wellbeing in the Scottish Borders, is offering a fantastic service. People will be supported to identify what is important to them and how they can make positive changes in their life to achieve their goals through accessing local services, groups and activities.

Just this week, Matt Hancock MP, the UK Health Secretary launched the National Academy for Social Prescribing. The main aim of the academy is to support local healthcare professionals in prescribing arts, sport and leisure activities to more people across the country. In England, the NHS’s long-term plan makes a commitment to refer at least 900,000 people to social prescribing within five years, with the help of 1,000 new social prescribing link workers who will be in place by 2020/21. I want to see something similar in Scotland, and it is down to the SNP to deliver.

The Scottish Conservatives launched a strategy on loneliness, with a specific section on social prescribing. With a growing interest in finding innovative ways to link patients to primary care with sources of support within the community, we sought the views of GPs and their experience of using ALISS (A Local Information System for Scotland) to support patients affected by social isolation and loneliness. Building local relationships is a key aspect to the programme. Community Link Workers build up knowledge of local services and develop positive relationships with them. They keep practice teams informed of new services, whilst also identifying any local service gaps.

I hope that in the near future social prescribing becomes far more mainstream, and an appropriate way of reducing the levels of antidepressant use.