Heavily medicated, bed bound and my children as my carers, I was told that “you will always be ill, you will always be medicated and you will never work again”. Not only did I prove the psychiatrist wrong but it took me to places I never thought possible and on a journey that goes beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
What is Social Prescribing I hear you say? Well, quite simply it’s a non-clinical, non-medicinal way of focussing on improving mental health, physical wellbeing and support those with long term conditions or those who are socially isolated. Social prescribing is designed to support people with a wide range of social or emotional needs and many schemes are an activity or project, based within the local community. It could be anything from cricket to crocheting, singing to swimming, dancing to darts! The sessions are usually free or there could be a small charge.
Not only does this give a person a new interest or hobby, but it also helps them socialise within their community and feel less isolated, whilst also giving them an element of control for their own health and well-being. It does not have any bias and covers all ages, sexes, religions, status, nationalities and many “labels” or diagnoses that a person might have. Using creativity in this way helps to address language and cultural problems which can help to balance out many of the inequalities experienced by asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness or the travelling community. Social prescribing has been proven to increase quality of life and reduce admissions to A&E. I realise that this will not be for everyone, but it is certainly a great start to help to reduce social isolation and improve quality of life.
Previously, there have been limited ways to treat and respond to those with mental health conditions. Social prescribing offers a different, not necessarily new, way of treating and interacting with them. It connects them to the community and helps build up relationships and friendships that can be very difficult when suffering mental health issues, long-term illnesses and physical disabilities.
Social prescribing saved my life.
I started on medication at 8 years old, leading up to me being on 26 tablets a day. After reaching crisis point, I was referred to psychological services for counselling. Whilst in the waiting room, I saw a leaflet “Art for well-being”. Having never done art before, I wondered how it could help someone like me. It was close to my home and was free, so I thought it was worth a try. I was extremely daunted, but the day I went to the taster session, my life changed forever. I began to draw and rather than it looking like a squiggle, it looked like the thistle I had been asked to draw. For the first time in a long while, I was sitting in that art studio, not as a mental health patient nor an NHS number with lots of labels and diagnosis, but as a human being and an art student, who wanted to draw, just like the person sitting next to me. I started to feel alive again.
Having been in the mental health system for over 40 years, I began to learn to take control of my life. I started to see that this racing track brain of mine could be stopped and controlled and I learned to do just that. I started to live without medication for the first time in my adult life, without the need for carers and I even began working as a volunteer. This led to me working again, for the NHS that funded the art class that saved my life, something I was told I would never do. It steered me into talking to other students, who were also mental health service users. Together, we talked about having hope and aspirations and that they too could feel better. That they were the experts of their own wellbeing, and that nobody knows their bodies better than they do. This led to a much bigger, greater and unexpected journey that I was now on. Doing things I had never dreamt of because I had thought them to be so unachievable. Let me tell you now, I have accomplished more than I could ever imagine, all thanks to one simple art class.
But social prescribing is more than an art class, a football group or rock climbing sessions. It offers a different way to respond and treat people. It doesn’t care if you have an illness or lots of diagnoses, if you are homeless or live in a mansion or if you are young or old. It’s a way of having fun whilst putting you in control of your own health and well-being, your own future and your own care. My art classes didn’t just teach me how to draw. It taught me how to live.
About the Author
Debs Teale is an advocate of creativity in health following her own remarkable journey. She advocates creativity as an additional service to improve wellbeing and offering hope and aspiration. She has a passion to promote everyone having a voice and a choice in their own care, something she felt lacked in her own journey. Debs believes everyone has something to bring to the table, even if it is just themselves. She has completed a MSc in mental health recovery and social Inclusion. She is a Trustee at the National Centre for Creative Health as well as a member of the Social Prescribing Network and Social Prescribing Academy. Debs is part of our sounddelivery media Spokesperson Network Programme.