Boosting your health and wellbeing through social connection
5 September 2023
The feel-good factor of spending time with people we love doing things we enjoy is increasingly being recognised by doctors as an important piece in the healthcare puzzle. While medical treatment can be essential, especially for people with chronic illness, there are also a range of health benefits to be gained from non-medical interventions, such as connecting with friends and spending time outdoors.
Valion Health’s Managing Director Michael Marthick tells us more about what social prescribing is and the opportunities and benefits of including it as part of a holistic approach to care.
What is social prescribing?
In a nutshell, social prescribing is when a healthcare professional suggests a non-medical intervention to a patient. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a regular walk with a close friend, membership to a Men’s Shed, or linking with your local community through social groups and activities such as health and fitness groups, movie clubs or a local bush care group.
We’ve all experienced the overall sense of wellbeing that comes from participating in an activity that’s meaningful to us, and a social prescription aims to maximise the potential benefits to be gained from these activities by incorporating them into a patient’s treatment plan.
Michael says social prescriptions work by addressing some of the non-medical factors that impact an individual’s health and wellbeing.
“These non-medical factors, sometimes called the social determinants of health, include things such as housing, education, employment and connection to the community, which can all have a big impact on your health.
“We know that building links with local communities, through social prescriptions, can positively impact less visible areas of health and wellbeing such as loneliness and feelings of empowerment,” says Michael.
Who can benefit from social prescribing?
While social connection is good for all of us, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners found that social prescribing is especially beneficial for those who:
- need extra support to manage their mental health and wellbeing
- have a chronic health condition or multiple conditions
- are socially isolated for any reason
- are older and experiencing loneliness, major life changes and/or illness
- are children in the first few years of life, to reduce issues later.
Social prescribing is not a one-size fits all solution and that’s where GPs and other healthcare professionals can help. By being part of the local community and understanding their patients’ needs, they’re well placed to connect people with positive groups and activities that can support them.
What does a social prescription look like?
Social prescriptions vary according to the unique needs and circumstances of the patient, and healthcare providers consider a range of factors, but referrals could include:
- cookery classes
- bush care groups
- group exercise such as yoga
- weekly walks
- coffee (and cake!) catch-ups
- art or ceramics classes
- volunteering across a variety of areas.
Michael says to improve the chances of success, it’s important for healthcare providers to refer participants to an activity or group that’s meaningful to them, readily available locally or online, and within their budget.
“It’s a simple formula but making things easy to access and interesting increases the appeal,” says Michael.
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that social prescriptions positively impact on health and wellbeing, after all, doing things we enjoy makes us feel happy and more connected to others.
Social prescriptions can also boost your sense of control over your own healthcare by empowering you to proactively take charge of your own health goals.
“Social prescribing has the power to impact health and wellbeing in an enormous way,” says Michael.
So maybe now’s the perfect time to pull out your phone and make a time to join a local class or catch-up with that friend you haven’t seen in a while, it’ll likely make you feel great!
Valion Health supports eligible Teachers Health members through the Cancer Support Program.