Social Prescribing for Severe Mental Illness

Improving access to social prescribing for people with severe mental illness

People with severe mental illnesses (including bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder) have poorer health outcomes, and they die up to 20 years earlier than the general population. The reasons for this are complex and include lower socioeconomic status, social isolation and loneliness, as well as sub optimal management of physical health by healthcare professionals. Alternative models of disease prevention are therefore required.

Social prescribing offers a holistic approach to health by linking patients in primary care to community groups and social activities. It has been found to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups, though there is limited evidence on whether social prescribing in its current form is reaching people with severe mental illness and whether it is effective. For many reasons, it is likely that people in this category are currently disadvantaged in their access to social prescribing, potentially widening existing health and social inequalities for this group.

In this project, we will explore two questions:

  1. Is social prescribing reaching people with severe mental illness and, if so, how? Using data from a database called Elemental, the most widely used social prescribing tracking software platform in the UK , we will identify (i) the proportion of referrals being made, (ii) their socio-demographic characteristics, and (iii) what kinds of activities they are receiving (e.g. arts and community groups, benefits support, peer support etc).
  2. What is the evidence that social prescribing can have an impact on the mental health of people with severe mental illness? Considering both national and international evidence and assessing the quality of this evidence, our review will show what the existing literature is, how scientifically robust it is, and where the key gaps are that need to be overcome to increase the provision of social prescribing for this group of people.

Overall, our goal is that we have data to show what impact social prescribing has for people with severe mental illness and how these effects occur, and clear, efficient referral routes so that people do not face any disadvantage in accessing the scheme.


Rosetrees Trust & MQ Mental Health Research

Programme area

Behavioural science




Dr Alex Burton