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Lonely children and young people to receive ‘social prescriptions’

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Children and adolescents in the UK who are lonely and missing out on a social life are the target of a new project offering ‘social prescriptions’ for activities ranging from gardening to fishing to sports.

A four year scheme has been established by researchers at University College London (UCL) as a means of combatting higher levels of loneliness among young people than many other age groups.

Around one in 10 youngsters aged 10-15 years say they are lonely, says UCL, and this new project will work specifically with schools to identify children aged between nine and 13 who feel lonely or isolated, and connect them with a dedicated worker to prescribe them an activity that fits their interests.

Researchers will compare outcomes relating to wellbeing, reductions in loneliness and mental health difficulties, and academic attendance and achievement) among these children over the following year, against the outcomes of a group children who were signposted to an activity but not given extra support.

Some 12 primary and secondary schools are now being sought for the pilot phase of the project, which starts later this year with the aim of expanding to 30 schools across the UK next year.

Dr Daniel Hayes, co-principal investigator from the UCL Department of Behavioural Science & Health, said: “Loneliness has become an increasing problem among adolescents in the UK. This problem is especially acute in cities and among children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is promising early evidence that social prescribing can help young people.

Our study will add to this evidence base, assessing how effective social prescribing is in reducing loneliness and mental health difficulties, enhancing wellbeing and improving academic attendance and attainment, as well as how cost effective it is.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey from before the pandemic showed that 11.3 per cent of 10-15-year-olds in the UK reported often feeling lonely, rising to 19.5 per cent of children living in a city, and 27.5 per cent of children on free school meals. Loneliness was also more common among younger children aged 10 to 12 years (14.0 per cent) than among those aged 13 to 15 years (8.6 per cent) and those aged 16 to 24 (9.8 per cent).

And it is not restricted to the UK, with loneliness among adolescents also having increasing worldwide. Between 2012 and 2018, loneliness at school increased in 36 out of 37 countries, according to a survey of 15-16 year-olds by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), part of the global Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Co- investigator Professor Daisy Fancourt, said: “Friendships and social connections are cornerstones of healthy adolescent development. If young people are lonely, they are at increased risk of developing depression, physical problems such as poor sleep, and later ill health, including cardiovascular disease.

“While GPs are increasingly adopting social prescribing for adults, young people are not yet routinely accessing the service, as they tend not to go to the GP for health and wellbeing support in the way that adults might. Our programme will help provide evidence on the potential benefits that social prescribing may have for children too.”


Author: Simon Weedy

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