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Sports, the arts and outdoor activities are to be prescribed to combat mental health issues in young people in a study run by academics from University College London. Activities including dancing, surfing, gardening and youth groups will be trialled as an interim support system for young people suffering with anxiety and depression who are waiting for further care.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, the UCL mental health expert behind the study, says that three in four young people see their mental health deteriorate whilst waiting for treatment.
‘Social prescribing has the potential to support young people while they wait by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that could enhance their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks,’ Fancourt said.
NHS mental health trusts in 10 parts of England will offer activities to 600 young people aged 11 to 18 who are currently on their waiting lists. Fancourt believes that social prescribing has ‘enormous potential’.
‘Young people’s mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS,’ she said. ‘Currently many young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services face long waits, during which time more than three-quarters experience a deterioration in their mental health. Social prescribing has the potential to support young people while they wait, by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that could enhance their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks.’
Young people taking part in the trial will be able to choose which activity they want to try, and receive support from a ‘buddy’ or link worker. The trial is being funded by the Prudence Trust, a charity that offers grants and investment in young people’s mental health services and research in the UK.
Young people’s mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS
Social prescribing was first trialled in a much smaller study that took place between 2018-2020 in Luton, Sheffield and Brighton and Hove. Despite recent research published in the medical journal BMJ Open which questioned the effectiveness of social prescribing as an alternative to anti-depressant medications, this latest study by UCL will be the largest yet, and Fancourt believes that prescribed social, physical and outdoor activities can ‘help address determinants of mental illness, decrease stigma and shame sometimes associated with mental health problems, and give young people choice and control of their care’.
If the trial is successful, the scheme could be implemented within NHS mental health trusts throughout England, though it has been acknowledged that further consideration for the logistical and financial concerns associated with travel, kit and costs is needed.
One in six children between the ages of 5 and 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, and 83% of young people with mental health needs agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. The World Health Organization advocates physical, outdoor activity as an aid to better mental health and charity Mind offers practical guidance and ideas for improving mental health through nature.
If you are struggling with your mental health, support is available. Mental health charity Mind has online resources to help you or a loved one find the right help and better understand how you or they are feeling.
If you feel that your life may be in danger as a result of a mental health crisis, Samaritans offer 24 hour confidential support by calling 116 123 (UK), or texting SHOUT to 85258.
You can read more about how the outdoors helps members of the BASE community to keep their mental health in check, through activities such as cycling and wild swimming.
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