NHS to prescribe surfing to help anxiety


Young people will be prescribed dancing, surfing, rollerskating and gardening, to see whether taking part in sports, the arts and outdoor activities can reduce anxious and depressive feelings.

The activities are being prescribed to young people aged 11-18 in ten locations in England through NHS mental health trusts. The trusts are conducting a study, in partnership with University College London, to assess whether such “social prescribing” can improve mental wellbeing.

If the activities are deemed a success, the trial could be rolled out nationwide.

“Young people’s mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS,” Dr Daisy Fancourt, the UCL mental health expert running the trial, told The Guardian. “Currently, many young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services face long waits, during which time more than three-quarters experience a deterioration in their mental health.

“Social prescribing has the potential to support young people while they wait, by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that could enhance their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks.”

Surfing has been shown to have numerous mental and physical benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, improved coordination, and the mental boost associated with spending time on the water.

Croyde Bay, Croyde, Braunton, UK
Surfing at Croyde Bay, Braunton, UK

Participants can choose which pursuits they want to try, aided by a link worker or “buddy”. The trial is set to explore how keenly young people choose to engage in the activities, how much they cost, and how available the activities are.

Social prescribing is now firmly at the forefront of UK health policy with the recent commitment from the Department of Health and Social Care to refer 900,000 people to social prescribing services by 2024.

A smaller trial of social prescribing, conducted by UCL during the pandemic, was found by a government assessment to have helped to ease symptoms of loneliness and improve mental wellbeing.

The UCL trial is being funded by the Prudence Trust, a grant-making charity that focuses on young people’s mental health services.

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