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UK social prescribing schemes to receive £3.6m boost

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

The UK government has announced that it is awarding £3.6 million to the National Academy of Social Prescribing, aimed at supporting wellbeing.

According to NHS England, social prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer people to a link worker.

The service is intended to provide a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing by connecting people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.

Link workers also support the sustainability of existing community groups and improve access to them, while helping people to start new groups.

This is a crucial benefit as it helps reduce overprescribing and pressure on GPs by improving mental health through community services.

The grant will be used to support further projects by the National Academy of Social Prescribing, which has run many successful projects with local communities and voluntary groups.

The mental health charity Mind welcomed the news with a warning, with Head of Policy, Vicki Nash, saying in a press release:

“We are pleased to hear that the UK Government are committing to funding Social Prescribing projects across the country.

“Mind has been running Social Prescribing in Wales for the past two years and our data shows that it has a really positive impact for people with mild to moderate mental health problems.

"However, it’s important to note that while Social Prescribing can help people, it must not be seen as a substitute for funding other types of valuable support."


Lack of trust preventing young people from using mental health apps

According to a newly published survey from the University of Edinburgh, young people aren’t using mental health apps due to a lack of trust.

The survey was conducted on 248 17-25-year-olds with the aim of assessing their attitudes towards technology.

It was found that overall, participants were “relatively neutral” about the concept of health interventions delivered digitally.

The more trust a participant had in a specific technology and its usefulness, the more likely they were to use it.

However, the study also found that currently, young people don’t have that trust in mental health apps, including meditation, mindfulness and mental health management services.

“Digital interventions only present a viable solution for young people if they are trusted and considered useful by those who need them,” said Dr Vilas Sawrikar, commenting on the findings of the study.

“These findings suggest there should be a focus on developing trustworthy digital health interventions with evidence about usefulness and effectiveness to improve uptake among young people.”

Chatbots can help treat symptoms of depression

Research from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore has found that chatbots designed to help with depression can assist in the treatment of symptoms by effectively engaging in empathetic conversation.

Nine mental health chatbots available through leading app stores were analysed by the researchers with the aim of determining if they can provide any help for people with depression.

The nine apps were Marvin, Serenity, Woebot, 7 Cups, Happify, InnerHour, Wooper, Wysa and Tomo.

The results found that all of the apps that were analysed provided non-judgemental and empathetic conversation, alongside offering guidance and support using therapeutic exercises often used by counsellors or psychologists.

Additionally, all the apps' privacy policies showed that the chatbots keep the confidentiality of the user’s information and do not store or transfer it.

Lead researcher of the study, Professor Josip Car, said:

“Worldwide, healthcare systems are struggling to cope with the increased demand for mental health services. Digital health tools, including chatbots, could assist in providing timely care to individuals who may be unwilling or unable to consult a healthcare provider.

“Through this study, we have shown how chatbots are being used and how they engage in therapeutic conversations."

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