Reducing Isolation and Loneliness through Social Prescribing

  • 2023

  • Social Impact

Designed By:

Social prescribing is an initiative of the Victorian Department of Health’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Division. It’s about reimagining support for people experiencing psychological distress, mental ill health and addiction. It proposes a design-led response to loneliness and social isolation through community-based activities.

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  • Australians are experiencing higher rates of social isolation and loneliness, and this is especially true in older Victorians; some who are stuck in a cycle of psychological distress, mental ill health and addiction. The level of social connection and support that exists between individuals and groups needs to improve for better mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Our challenge was to co-design a new initiative that reimagined how we support people experiencing psychological distress, mental ill health and addiction (including their carers, families and supporters) by engaging them in non-clinical, community-based activities.

  • 32 consumers and carers came together to co-design a new service model for 'Social Prescribing’. Our solution is being trialled across six locations, supporting Victorians to be included in, and connected to, their communities. The solution is a new initiative embedded within the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Locals to connect people with community-based activities that best meet their interests and needs. We arrived here after a generative design process to define the service journey and identify the roles, responsibilities and qualities of the desired workforce. Our remit was across the experiential and operational aspects of the initiative.

  • A supportive service for Victorians to access community-based activities was endorsed by the Victorian Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotion Adviser, a project control group led by lived experience was established, and the initiative is being adopted locally and trialled across six locations with a plan to scale across Victoria. Social prescribing is intended to bring a new, holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing and provide non-clinical ways to improve confidence, self-esteem, a sense of control and empowerment. This is a significant shift from the medical model, recognising that communities are well-placed to support mental health and wellbeing.

  • The service design set out to deliver an in-person experience that doesn’t depend on technical literacy. This was to ensure a more inclusive experience for Victorians, to increase the level of comfort and confidence for service uptake for those with experiences of mental ill health and addiction, and create a curated experience for navigating community activities. Throughout the service design, it was imperative the voice of our lived experience co-designers was at the forefront: to maintain integrity and amplify their stories, ideas and aspirations. We brough together their words, drawings and soundbites to inspire the new model of care and set a vision and guidelines to support local implementation, inspire ongoing local co-design and embed the needs of lived experience. Importantly, through this process, a majority of co-designers expressed increased confidence and connection with others. Co-design itself became a way to support the greater connection that we were striving for in designing ‘social prescribing’. Many co-designers have continued to extend and share their newfound design knowledge across other system reform projects, and taken on roles on regional bodies and steering committees. Others are in the process of applying for front-line roles in the Social Prescribing initiative itself.