21st September 2021
For Margaret Duignan, social prescribing has had a transformative impact on her life – taking her out of herself allowing her to engage in a fulfilling way with her local community. Living in Rochfortbridge, Co Westmeath, Margaret describes how she had become the person who was “always at the kitchen sink at events like christenings and first communion, so that I didn’t have to talk to people.” Through social prescribing she has successfully re-emerged and is delighted with the new life she is establishing.
While many people are aware that clinical healthcare services alone cannot meet the range of everyone’s general health needs, they may not be familiar with social prescribing which links and people in community activities and services in order to promote their health and wellbeing. For Deirdre Ruane, a Social Prescriber with South County Dublin Partnership, it’s a great service. Deirdre describes herself as being “like the conduit between the HSE Primary Care Team and community services.”
She explains that following a referral from a GP or community series, she contacts the individual and “through a series of chats we discuss what concerns and issues they have. I do a general well being score to start. They tell me their goals, maybe they might have changes they want to make in their lives. Maybe they want to find a new purpose in their life. They can be any age from 18 up. So it’s for everybody.
“It’s very much the first step for somebody who might not have been engaging community activities before or who may have not have been engaging for some time. A social prescriber will support them for a period of weeks – once they are referred - to facilitate their needs and they will stay with them until they get engaged. It’s just so invaluable to be linked with local supports. It can also reduce the number of visits to the GP because their health and wellbeing is much better. They can do lots of things including connecting with nature – being out and about – linking in with walking groups and we call that the green prescription.”
Married for almost 40 years with four children, Margaret explains that the “first mention of social prescribing was from my GP. But at the time I think I wasn’t in a good enough place to even ask him what was it was. I had been very quiet in myself and I was trying to figure out what my problem was. When the children were very young I was lucky enough I was able to give up work when my eldest was a year old. We were over eight years married before we had a family and at one stage we didn’t even think we would manage to have a family due to problems with miscarriage and other issues.
“But I was delighted to be home with them. After my third child was born I suffered post natal depression and shortly after that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. So, between trying to rear a family and my arthritis I stopped going out. When my GP mentioned it, I initially didn’t pick him up on it. But he said I did need to speak to somebody which to me was a huge thing because I had lost all confidence going out – I dreaded social occasions. So one day I took the courage in my hand and I rang and I got an appointment.
“That was another big milestone – walking into the Offaly Community Development Office. I had no idea what I was going to be asked – meeting people I had never met before. The first lady I met must have seen the fear on my face. She was going out and I was going in and I said I am looking for Amanda Caufield and she said come on I’ll bring you upstairs. I was only there a few minutes but it seemed like forever. Everybody who passed seemed to have a big smile and a big hello. And then I met Amanda, my social prescriber. That was a very emotional meeting. I had just been just happy to be at home and to put myself out there was a big thing for me.
“She suggested a few things and I said I would try crochet at the start. For the first few weeks I suppose I just sat there trying to figure out how I was going to do this and didn’t say a lot. But then as time went by I got to know the group and felt more at ease. I started to come out of myself. From that we had the big hello event shortly afterwards in Tullamore. Normally, at any function – christening, first communion, I’d be the one at the kitchen sink, washing the dishes because that way I wouldn’t have to talk to people. But that day I put myself out, I went around and I spoke to people. These were beautiful people – I was delighted that I put myself out.”
Margaret recalls how Amanda later told her that her manager was watching the video from that day some time later and “she was asking who was the person who was moving around the room. So when they went on to launch social prescribing in Tullamore, Amanda asked me to speak at it and I just told my story.” That day and the whole social prescribing experience has been hugely positive and beneficial for a grateful Margaret.
Evaluations have demonstrated that social prescribing can have a range of positive outcomes, including improvements in mental wellbeing, physical health and health behaviours, and reductions in social isolation and loneliness. Those who can benefit the most include people with one or more long-term conditions, who need support with their mental health, who are lonely or isolated, who are frequent health service users, and who have complex social needs which affect their health and wellbeing. The development of social prescribing in Ireland has primarily been driven by the community and voluntary sector, in partnership with health services. Social prescribing services are now being delivered by 30 locations around the country by community-based organisations such as local development companies and family resource centres, supported by the HSE, Sláintecare and Healthy Ireland.
Watch Margaret tell her own story below.