This article appeared in the December 09, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Can a healthful sense of community be prescribed?

Toby Melville/Reuters
A woman walks past Share, a community-based borrowing and hiring enterprise in Frome, England, June 25, 2019.
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

A fundamental shift in thought around health care is well underway. Simplicity is a theme. 

There’s the promotion of simple food (including by prescription). There’s the rising advocacy of unstructured play (including, if the American Academy of Pediatrics has its way, by prescription) as an essential enhancer of child development. There’s art (by prescription) as therapy. 

Now, with isolation and depression being cast as leading societal ills, can a sense of community be prescribed too – and can doing so boost well-being? 

One small town’s experience says yes. About five years ago, caregivers in Frome, in southwestern England, began feeling besieged by cases they saw as being related to social stresses. 

They turned to an optimistic problem-solver in their midst. Health worker Jenny Hartnoll began comprehensively cataloging community resources – choirs, places where hobbyists could hang out and tinker, support groups. Then work turned to actively matching some patients to those resources, where appropriate. 

What happened was pretty remarkable. “Emergency hospital admissions in Frome fell by 14% over three years,” reports Quartz, even though they rose by twice that rate over the same period in the surrounding county. 

When Britain’s National Health Service released its long-term plan this year it hailed the town’s win. The gains were more than medical.

“It provides a positive shift in power and decision-making,” the report read, “that enables people to feel informed, have a voice, be heard and be connected, to each other and their communities.”

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This article appeared in the December 09, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 12/09 edition