Dr Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine and Integrated Health, addressed how social prescribing could be used to combat loneliness in a speech at the Westminster Insight conference. He highlights that social prescribing is a useful tool when it comes to supporting those who are feeling isolated, as the scheme provides new opportunities for people to socialise.
He highlighted that the number of link workers is increasing in England, with the aim that within the next few years there will be up to three link workers assigned to every group of GP practices. Link workers team up with local services and volunteers to extend their reach so that they are able to support all those who are referred to them or have been flagged as self-isolating.
Dr. Michael Dixon outlined how social prescribing helps people build connections and gives them new opportunities. He concludes his talk by highlighting that to truly tackle loneliness, the approach does need to go deeper than this. He said, ‘Social prescribing is about inequalities and helping those who need help most. The last Surgeon General of the US, Vivek Murthy, refers to the ‘Paradox of Loneliness’ which describes how those who feel most lonely may, paradoxically, often be those who are most resistant to social approaches and opportunities.
‘It has been estimated, for instance, that lonely brains detect social threat twice as fast as unlonely ones. Consequently, the unique strength of the social prescribing link worker is that they can do a ‘deep dive’ into the mind and lives of their clients and formulate a solution only when they thoroughly understand their background, challenges, hopes and beliefs – and this may often involve the link worker accompanying the client to the first few sessions of any new activity.
‘I also think social prescribing also has a vital role as catalyst for creating a community where people are less lonely to begin with. Social link workers often work alongside community builders, whose job is to increase the potential of the local volunteer and voluntary sector. Indeed, some link workers do both jobs. This results in a coming together of the voluntary sector, primary care and the local authority, which can increase local social capital and resilience and thus create a community where there are less lonely people altogether.’