British Doctors May Soon Prescribe Art, Music, Dance, Singing Lessons

Campaign is expected to launch across the entire U.K. by 2023

An ambitious initiative unveiled this week by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock may soon enable the country’s doctors to prescribe therapeutic art- or hobby-based treatments for ailments ranging from dementia to psychosis, lung conditions and mental health issues. Writing for the Times, Kat Lay explains that this unconventional strategy, described by the U.K. government as “social prescribing,” could find patients enrolled in dance classes and singing lessons, or perhaps enjoying a personalized music playlist.

“We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration,” Hancock said in a Tuesday speech at the King’s Fund health care think tank. “Social prescribing can help us combat over-medicalising people.”

According to the Telegraph’s Laura Donnelly, the proposal, which arrives on the heels of a larger preventative health scheme, provides for the creation of a National Academy for Social Prescribing that will ensure general practitioners, or GPs, across the country are equipped to guide patients to an array of hobbies, sports and arts groups.

The medical benefits of engaging with the arts are well-recorded: As Lay notes, a collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and stroke survivors living in Hull, England, encouraged patients to play instruments, conduct and perform; 90 percent of these participants reported improvements in their physical and mental health. In Lambeth, dance lessons have been shown to improve concentration and communication skills amongst those displaying early signs of psychosis, and in Gloucestershire, hospitals have begun to refer individuals with lung conditions to singing sessions.

A similar campaign launched in Canada earlier this month, Brendan Kelly reports for the Montreal Gazette. Beginning on November 1, every member of the Montreal-based medical association Médecins francophones du Canada (MdFC) gained the option of handing out 50 prescriptions allowing patients and a limited number of friends, family and caregivers to tour Quebec’s Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for free. Normally, admission costs up to $23 Canadian dollars (roughly $18 USD). As MdFC vice president Hélène Boyer tells Kelly, the initiative builds on research suggesting museum visits raise serotonin levels to offer a quick mood-boost.

Compared to the Canadian project, the U.K. one is simultaneously more comprehensive and less fleshed-out. Rather than simply prescribing one museum trip, the British campaign will encompass multiple walks of life, from social activities such as cooking classes, playing bingo and gardening to more culturally focused ventures, including library visits and concerts.


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