Viktoria Tomova, intern at Launchpad company Tickets for Good, explores the concepts behind social prescribing, the benefits it can have for individuals and society, especially in light of COVID-19, and how Tickets for Good is adapting to the pandemic.
What is social prescribing?
A social prescription is not a medicine that comes in a pharmacy bottle or in blister packs, instead it is a referral which allows you to engage with your community through arts, education, sports, readings or volunteering, and to gain advice and support on health and welfare. People who experience mental health problems or psychosocial or socio-economic issues (such as loneliness, , unemployment or discrimination) can be at a disadvantage as the primary care available lacks the resources, expertise and tools needed to support these people.
Approximately 20% of visits to the GP in the UK refer to a social problem rather than physical health issues. This shows there is a clear need to improve social services to help our society. Social prescribing contributes to overcoming existing social inequalities by addressing mental health, psychosocial and socio-economic problems with effective and appropriate methods.
The benefits of social prescribing
Even though social prescribing services have existed since the 1990s, it was not until recently that they caught the public’s attention. The benefits of social prescribing programmes are already evident and a rising number of people have benefited from joining activities available in their community. One clear benefit is that individuals participating in group activities find it easier to manage loneliness and anxiety, and indicate better health conditions. One of the key advantages of such services is that people feel they are able to discuss their problems because they are treated with respect, and this provides a comforting, understanding and motivational environment. Being part of a supportive community where people share similar experiences inspires a sense of belonging which rebuilds one’s vision of self-identity and future development.
Growing self-confidence, dealing positively with recurring problems and building strong interpersonal relationships are some of the results participants in social prescribing programmes have recorded. To bring these results to a larger context, it is possible to see how the social care system and society are benefiting. More specifically, GP visits have decreased from the groups where people were linked to community activities which reduced the pressure on health providers and the use of emergency services. Social prescribing services are cost-effective and likely to encompass potential return on investments. Furthermore, as people show improvement in their mental health conditions through the activities they undertake (e.g. IT courses, crafting, dancing), they also develop and improve their skills. Based on these positive outcomes, they start to rebuild their lives and strive for further achievements such as looking for employment, volunteering and education. Thus, the impact social prescribing has is not limited to the direct short-term benefits participants experience but also supports the establishment of innovative social movements that can positively transform our society (e.g. lower unemployment rate, satisfied citizens, supportive social relationships).
Mental health, social prescribing and COVID-19
Considering the close interrelation of social prescribing with mental health, it comes as no surprise that the increasing awareness of mental health issues and the current active campaigning by mental health organisations , has paved the way for the implementation of social prescribing programmes. The current discussions around the importance of looking after mental health have led to increasing interest in social prescribing, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19.
In the light of the COVID pandemic, healthcare organisations are naturally having to adjust to face the current and future challenges of the virus. It seems that during the pandemic the focus on mental health has had to take a back seat. While a big part of the global population has and will be affected by the physical impact of coronavirus, it is all of us who are dealing with the consequences. Front-line workers, people who had the disease, families who lost loved ones, individuals who stayed in isolation, those who drastically changed their work environment, people who lost their business or their jobs – these are all people who may experience mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.
Evidently, now more than ever it is important to concentrate our efforts on improving social services to meet the mental health needs of people. One way of doing that is through supporting, investing and using social prescribing programmes.
The role of Tickets for Good
Tickets for Good aims to reduce social inequalities by creating opportunities for inclusion through the provision of free tickets for people who are in a disadvantaged position to attend events and participate in activities.
Tickets for Good demonstrates an innovative and proactive attitude to countering the effects of social distancing. We’ve utilised our resources to foster new communal linkages and provide online cultural and art opportunities, and activities during the pandemic.
Our vision is to transform event tickets into life changing experiences for people in need.
 Blerina Kellezi et al. ‘The social cure of social prescribing: a mixed methods study on the benefits of social connectedness on quality and effectiveness of care provision,’ BMJ Open,2019; 9:e033137.; Megan Sambrook Smith et al., ‘Barriers to accessing mental health services for women with perinatal mental illness: systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative studies in the UK,’ BMJ Open 2019; 9:e024803.; John Howie et al., ‘Quality at general practice consultations: cross sectional survey,’ BMJ 1999; 319, 738-43.
 Steering Committee, ‘Report Of The Annual Social Prescribing Network Conference,’ Park Crescent Conference Centre, London (The University of Westminster, the Wellcome Trust and the Fit for Work UK Coalition with support from the College of Medicine), 20 January 2016. Available from: https://www.artshealthresources.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2016-Social-Prescribing-Network-First-Conference-Report.pdf.
 Marie Polley et al., ‘Making Sense of Social Prescribing,’ University of Westminster [online], 2017. Available from: https://42b7de07-529d-4774-b3e1-225090d531bd.filesusr.com/ugd/14f499_816dc79e160a4e77991599a74236d0d4.pdf (Accessed 11 August 2020).
 Clare Grant, Trudy Goodenough, Ian Harvey and Chris Hine, ‘A randomised controlled trial and economic evaluation of a referrals facilitator between primary care and the voluntary sector,’ BMJ, 320(7232) 2000, 419-423.; Marie Polley et al., ‘Making Sense of Social Prescribing,’ University of Westminster [online], 2017.; Liza Morton, M. Ferguson,and Frances J. Baty, ‘Improving wellbeing and self-efficacy by social prescription,’ Public Health, 129(3) 2015, 286-89.
 Kellezi et al. ‘The social cure of social prescribing: a mixed methods study on the benefits of social connectedness on quality and effectiveness of care provision.’ 2019, p.3.
 Hester Parr, ‘Mental health, the arts and belongings,’ Trans Inst Br Geogr 31 2006, 150-166.; T. Stickley and A. Hui, ‘Social prescribing through arts on prescription in a UK city: Participants’ perspectives (Part 1),’ Public Health 126(7) 2012, 574-79.
 Liles A, Darnton P., ‘Social Prescribing in Wessex: Understanding its impact and supporting spread,’ Wessex AHSN 2017.
 e.g. Mental Health Act, Green ribbon campaign, Heads Up – Heads Together and the FA, The Power of Okay – See Me, increased government funding, free online health assessment and 24 hour confidential counselling service at some work places.