Do you know what is a greater predictor of early death than smoking or obesity?
Alarmingly, neighbourhoods and communities are now experiencing an explosion of loneliness and isolation, particularly among seniors. Given the negative health consequences of loneliness, that means that a new public health crisisis emerging within our midst, with all of the costs, both social and economic, that a public health crisis brings with it.
So concerning are these developments that the British government has created a new Cabinet-level ministry to deal with them—the Ministry of Loneliness. And one of the recent responses to “loneliness” in the U.K. is a new practice called “Social Prescribing.” Under “Social Prescribing,” a medical doctor literally writes out a “prescription” for social engagement, much like he or she would for medication. Of course, many people, such as family members, social workers, clergy or other caregivers, can and do recommend more social engagement for people who are isolated. However, because the “prescription” comes from a doctor, results in the U.K. indicate that the chances of it being followed by a senior are significantly enhanced.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has now recently funded a one-year Pilot Project to study the possibilities of “Social Prescribing” in Ontario. As reported recently by the CBC in Why Doctors are Prescribing Bingo, not Pills, to Keep Patients Healthy, 11 Community Health Centres across Ontario have received small amounts of funding to implement “Social Prescribing” in their communities.
Shalem’s Executive Director Mark Vander Vennen has been asked to join the Advisory Committee for the Social Prescribing Pilot Project. Why? Because the practitioners organizing the Pilot Project recognize the close connection between “Social Prescribing” and WrapAround. Shalem is a national leader in WrapAround, which “wraps” community supports in an effective way around people who are isolated.
WrapAround lives at the place of connection between community supports and professionals, such as doctors—the point of connection which is most tenuous and fragile in any effort of this nature, and where things may be most likely to fall apart. This intersection is at the heartbeat of Shalem itself (see “Why Shalem? What Makes Shalem Unique?”). Organizers of the Pilot Project are keen to hear how WrapAround might be able to enhance and strengthen “Social Prescribing.” Meanwhile, Mark is eager to learn from the Social Prescribing efforts in Ontario, to enhance our practice at Shalem.
The request to Mark is a recognition of the WrapAround work at Shalem, as well as of Shalem’s vital participation in Wrap Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing best practices in WrapAround in Canada and to supporting WrapAround initiatives across the country. It is also a recognition of Shalem’s pioneering work in WrapAround with Seniors (see a recent Shalem blog about this). Thanks to a grant from the Hamilton Community Foundation, in 2018 Shalem has launched WrapAround with Seniors as part of its overall WrapAround program.
All of this puts Shalem at the forefront of innovative responses to a serious, emerging public health crisis: the crisis of loneliness and isolation. It reflects Shalem’s Strategic Plan, titled “Impact and Influence,” by which we seek to have some influence, based on what we are learning about community-based mental health, on the broader professional human services delivery sector.
Mark is honoured to represent Shalem and Wrap Canada on the Social Prescribing Advisory Committee. Feel free to email Mark with any questions, observations and insights!
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W. is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network