Health & Wellness

Doctors Are Beginning to Prescribe Social Activities

To combat social isolation and loneliness, and the associated health risks, doctors are prescribing art, gardening, and bingo

By Katrina Caruso

Social isolation and loneliness can bring on serious mental and physical health problems, and according to Statistics Canada, 16% of seniors are currently living with a sense of isolation.

To combat the problem, the Ontario government recently launched a new health initiative: prescribing social activities rather than medication for some patients. Doctors will be able to write prescriptions that will allow their patients more contact and interaction with others by, for example, joining an art class, a gardening club, or a knitting group.

The concept—known as social prescribing—was inspired by a similar pilot program in the UK that has reportedly resulted in a 25% drop in visits to doctors and emergency rooms and has become part of the UK government’s loneliness strategy, announced earlier in October. “A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness” includes provisions that will, by 2023, see doctors throughout the UK able to prescribe activities including bingo and a visit to a coffee shop for patients experiencing loneliness.

In Ontario, the project is starting as a one-year pilot program in 11 community health centres and is being funding by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Médicins francophones du Canada (MdFC—francophone doctors of Canada) recently announced a new year-long trial to measure the health benefits of art. As of November 1, MdFC-affiliated doctors will be able to prescribe free visits to the museum’s collections and exhibitions as part of treatment for conditions including mental illness, eating disorders, chronic pain, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors will be able to prescribe up to 50 visits, and each pass will allow admission for up to two adults and two minors.

Photo: iStock/svetikd.