Reflections on Social Prescribing in Occupational Therapy

by Holly Hearsum and Rachael Burke, 1st Year Edinburgh Napier MSc Occupational Therapy Students

Supported by Corinne Burnett & Katrina McFadyen, Occupational Therapy, NHS Lanarkshire

Rachael and I are part of a group of four Occupational Therapy Master’s students who have been involved in an exciting and innovative peer-assisted, role- emerging, project-based, split-placement exploring social prescribing in Occupational Therapy. Rachael spends half her week in a Community Mental Health team, I am based in a Mental Health Rehab ward for people with long term psychosis. The other half of our placement time is spent with Central Scotland Adventures (CSA); a social enterprise that breaks down barriers and advocates for blue space wellbeing for everyone. We have been lucky enough to be out on the water paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing ourselves allowing us to experience first-hand how blue space and the outdoors can affect health and wellbeing.

We feel that being on the water and joining in with social paddles has been eye-opening to how powerful blue space can be for mental health. Being immersed in the two different environments has given us insight as to how blue space activities could be beneficial for patients within both the community and mental health rehab settings.  We have seen how much enjoyment and benefit some of the rehab and community patients gain from engaging in Occupational Therapy led outdoor activities, and strongly feel as though paddle boarding or other outdoor occupations could be used similarly as a therapeutic intervention in both community and rehab settings.

Blue space has been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing, with strong emphasis on socialising, connecting, a sense of escape, and the creation of an emotional and physical safe space (Britton et al., 2020; Marshall et al., 2019). Common difficulties for Mental Health patients include suffering from low self-esteem, low motivation, and lack of social connection. There is a sense of accomplishment at learning a new skill, such as paddleboarding, which heightens self-confidence, and the chance to connect socially with others which may help those who have anxiety or other mental health conditions. As a social enterprise, CSA ensures social inclusion and accessibility for all, regardless of ability or circumstance, which allows people to feel comfortable and confident in trying new activities.

Occupational Therapy students testing social paddles as a therapeutic intervention to improve mental health and wellbeing

Paddle boarding as a therapeutic intervention for rehabilitation could work well as it can be tailored and graded to individual needs. It can enhance people’s health and wellbeing through connecting and socialising, building confidence, and learning a new skill that may be continued for life.

However, from the community setting it may be a bit more difficult as it is solely on the individual to motivate themselves to engage in the occupation of paddle boarding and to transport themselves to the marina. In addition, patients within the community can often struggle to motivate themselves to engage in occupations so it may be more difficult to engage community patients. The community mental health team may signpost patients to Central Scotland Adventures who are near discharge as they are more likely to be motivated and interest in engaging in the activity of paddle boarding.

Participating in this placement has allowed us to experience the benefits of outdoor occupations which we can take forward to professional practice. This placement has also felt like a really important step towards advocating for Social Prescribing. Social Prescribing is shown to be cost-effective and enhance health and wellbeing, but it needs more supporting evidence and theory to refine its effects and broaden its use (Wakefield et al., 2022; Fixsen et al., (2020).

The image is of three people in kayaks on a river

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