When we visit our doctor to seek support for a health issue we’re experiencing, a result of the consultation may be the doctor writing a prescription for a medication, hopefully one that will help alleviate any unpleasant symptoms we are having. How we feel about taking a new drug, perhaps adding to medications we are already using, may vary. But most people recognize that sometimes medication is necessary, and many of us are living longer and healthier lives as a result of taking prescription medicines.
So, it could be a shock if your doctor gave you a “prescription” for…not a medication…but instead, joining a book club, joining a walking group, adopting a pet, or volunteering!
It’s not uncommon for a person to experience physical symptoms when other aspects of life are not going well, and it’s not always easy to understand what might be happening. Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it’s not surprising that mental health can affect our physical state. Feeling depressed and sad can present with headaches, fatigue and digestive problems, and stress and anxiety can create an upset stomach, muscle aches, and other bodily symptoms.
Feeling alone, being socially isolated, experiencing a loss or bereavement – all can contribute to a mental state causing physical symptoms resulting in a visit to the doctor.
Many doctors and healthcare providers are beginning to focus more on the possibility that patients may be better supported by a more comprehensive assessment of their wellbeing, one that considers their social supports as well as any potential physical disorder.
This approach is called “social prescribing” and the Alliance for Healthier Communities explains that “Social Prescribing is a holistic approach to healthcare that brings together the social and medical models of health and wellness”.
One way to explain this approach is when the healthcare provider explores with the patient, changing the focus from “what is the matter with you?” to “what matters to you?”
Supporting the person to find ways to decrease isolation, connect to others in their community, or to rekindle an interest in a previously-enjoyed hobby or activity, might seem simple but it can be a first step to improving physical and mental health.