Empty bench in Richmond Park, London at sunset

How can Creative Health and Social Prescribing support health equity?

Esme Elsden, UCL IEHC Soc-B Doctoral Candidate, reviews Professor Helen Chatterjee’s UCL East Lecture on the role creative health and social prescribing have in reducing health inequalities.

A timely lecture as we find ourselves in the midst of Mental Health awareness week with the theme of Nature. Professor Helen Chatterjee (Professor of Biology at UCL Biosciences and UCL Arts & Sciences) leads today’s lunchtime lecture on creative health by starting with the overwhelming benefits connecting with nature through green prescriptions have to improve psychological wellbeing (1). We are becoming increasingly aware of the therapeutic effect of being out in the garden, getting out for a walk amongst the trees and watching the changing seasons in the leaves. I know myself that during the first lockdown, the only thing keeping me sane was our one-hour a day of walking outside.

However, this is not limited to nature; how we engage our leisure time has important protective effects for both mental and physical health. Examples: being part of a community choir, painting, crafting, and making music are all ways which Professor Chatterjee explained we tap into our creative health potential. Creative health is an inspiring research area that is gaining more ground as time goes on, combining the arts and sciences as an inheritance from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Creative Health whose report came out in 2017 (2).

Professor Chatterjee gave us a sweeping whistle-stop tour through the origins of looking for creative ways to support better health outcomes, informed by the landmark work of Sir Michael Marmot from the 2010 Marmot Review through to the recent COVID-19 Build Back Fairer (3,4). Explaining how the social determinants of health form the social gradient of health, which maintains inequality in society’s health outcomes. Meaning people who are the least deprived members of society have better health outcomes across their life, whereas people in the most deprived parts of society, i.e., those dealing with poor housing, lack of purposeful jobs and low economic resources, have poorer health outcomes over their lives.

In an increasingly unequal society, “creating the conditions and opportunities for arts, creativity and culture to be embedded in the health of the public” strikes an important reminder of the importance of living a meaningful life. Creative health asset provision is a mosaic of what is available in the community. Libraries, museums and the art sector are not paid to tackle health inequalities, and they rely on public funds to maintain the space rather than deliver interventions. There is no one size fits all to tackling health equity through creative health, which is further embedded into the social prescribing movement.

Social prescribing has been going on for 30 or more years and aims to have link workers in each primary care network who understand the local areas community assets. That is to say the libraries, the cultural offerings and different community groups that people may find useful to help support their psychosocial wellbeing. Wellbeing that doesn’t quite fit into the medical model of being a traditional prescription of medication. Social factors need to be taken into account and social prescribing referrals have rapidly increased, with the Health Secretary promising 1000 more link workers by 2023 (5). Creative health has to be connected to what is happening in the community, with scoping and mapping within the community as the bedrock for this policy.

As the lecture came a close, Professor Chatterjee’s words of “there is still a lot of work to do” resonated as this exciting research area continues to grow and policies begin to take effect.

Watch the recording

  1. Thomson LJ, Morse N, Elsden E, Chatterjee HJ. Art, nature and mental health: assessing the biopsychosocial effects of a ‘creative green prescription’ museum programme involving horticulture, artmaking and collections. Perspect Public Health. 2020;140(5):277–85.
  2. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts H and W. Creative Health: The Arts for Heath and Wellbeing [Internet]. 2017. Available from: http://www.arts.wales/128094
  3. Marmot M. Fair Society, Healhty Lives: The Marmot Review [Internet]. The Marmot Review. 2010. Available from: http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review/fair-society-healthy-lives-full-report-pdf.pdf
  4. Marmot M, Allen J, Goldblatt P, Herd E, Morrison J. Build Back Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review. Heal Found [Internet]. 2020; Available from: https://www.health.org.uk/publications/build-back-fairer-the-covid-19-marmot-review
  5. NHS. 2021. “NHS England » Social Prescribing”. England.Nhs.Uk. https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/.

Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash

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