Social prescribing can become used in ways that are insensitive to what people really need.
Author: Karen Senior
It has taken me a while to decide if it was the right thing to open up about my experience of “Social Prescribing”. After much thought, and seeing the vast amount of discussion that is happening around the subject I hope my experience adds to learning around the field.
Firstly I want to say that I have no doubt that well intentioned people with good values work in the social prescribing arena, and also support its development. I also do not wish my writing to be a commentary of everything that is wrong with Social Prescribing, but a narrative that we can learn from.
I feel my experience demonstrates something deeper. It demonstrates how anything that seeks to become part of a system without embedding itself in communities, and having a foundation in good relationships, can become deeply flawed.
It may be helpful to start by telling you about myself. I am someone who has worked in social and health care services most of my working life. Latterly with a peer support group called The People Focused Group, who have taught me so much about the strength of a community of people coming together and supporting each other.
I also have a diagnosis of Bi Polar and Borderline Personality Disorder which has meant I have used the services of the mental health system. A colleague once described me as someone who has “danced on both sides of the fence”.
I was unwell a couple of years ago. Once stable I knew that I needed some support to unravel what had happened, and what I had learned. This is what I always need; it helps me and those close to me to understand what to do differently in the future. Patty Duke a famous actress with a diagnosis of Bi-Polar calls this “mopping up”.
I approached my psychiatrist to request input from psychology. If you access secondary mental health services you cannot access services such as IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) or counselling provided in primary care.
It was agreed that he would discuss this request at the next team meeting.
The next week I received a letter. This letter stated that at this time I wouldn’t be able to access psychology, but was being referred to the local Social Prescribing service.
As I had worked in services I knew what Social Prescribing was. Even with this knowledge I was confused. Did these people know me at all? I have a good circle of support, work, am actively involved in my local community and a peer support community.
I needed psychology, not connecting to people and groups.
A number of days later a follow up letter arrived from a GP at my practice who barely knows me. He was advocating the Social Prescribing service avidly to me also.
This left me feeling despondent at best; not wanting to ask for help again at worst.
Social Prescribing for me had been used as a way of offering me “something”. I wonder how many people this has also happened to? I was only fortunate that I knew what it meant; and knew it wasn’t the right thing for me.
I spoke to my psychiatrist about it when I was stronger, as he wrote the first letter. He apologised, he has known me a long time. He said it was all the team had to offer. He understood the way I felt and encouraged me to complain.
I ask myself what if?
What if instead of spending the money on services that are out of touch with people and communities, we spent the money in communities.
Maybe just maybe I would have been able to access therapy in my community, at a time that made sense for me?
The publisher is Citizen Network Research. On Social Prescribing © Karen Senior