Unpaid jobs set to work wonders for depression

Unpaid jobs set to work wonders for depression

Jane Bradley

DOCTORS are set to prescribe work for patients under new plans to treat people who are isolated or suffering from depression.

GPs will refer patients to volunteer services in Edinburgh in a bid to help them meet people and get involved in the community.

The tactic is to be used to treat people with depression or patients who have been isolated or house-bound following a long period of physical illness. Surgeries in south Edinburgh are to be the first to pilot the GP scheme next year, which will be rolled out across the city if it is successful.

In a recent survey carried out by Volunteer Scotland, 48 per cent of volunteers with existing health issues said they had experienced longer periods of robust health since they started volunteering.

The plans are part of a new city-wide draft strategy for the next five years, drawn up by a working group led by agency Volunteer Edinburgh, which matches people with volunteering opportunities.

Other proposals include the introduction of five neighbourhood ‘volunteer hubs’ in deprived areas and a new Lord Provost’s Award to honour the city’s top volunteers.

Lara Celini, of Volunteer Edinburgh, said: ‘If someone is feeling depressed or isolated, volunteering would be a great way to get back into society and learn new skills.

‘Social prescribing has been in place for some time now, but not involving volunteering. GPs already do things like refer people to places where they can get advice on debt, for example, as the stress of worrying about it can have an effect on their health.’

Paul Wilson, manager of core services at Volunteer Edinburgh, added: ‘We recognise that some GPs have been recommending volunteering to their patients for some time and know the benefits, but we would like this to be available to all patients.’

Dr Dean Marshall, the new chairman of the Scottish General Practitioners Committee, welcomed the idea.

He said: ‘We have previously prescribed exercise to patients with certain problems and that has worked very well. The volunteer services have an untapped potential there to help us improve patients’ health.

‘People may see an opportunity advertised, but not have the impetus to do it themselves, but if GPs give it to them as a prescription, it could be more effective.

‘People who are unable to do full-time work can still contribute to society in a way that can be very therapeutic for them. GPs are very well placed to identify people who may benefit from volunteering.’

But Evening News health columnist Dr Ian McKee warned that although useful for some patients, the scheme would not be successful for all people with serious depression.

He said: ‘It sounds like something that would be extremely useful for someone who is feeling low because of circumstances in their lives and needs something that will get them out of the house – but that is very different to medical depression.’

One volunteer, who previously struggled with health issues, said: ‘It’s good to be busy. I like the fact that I’m ‘needed’ and that the week has a shape to it.’

Jennifer Fairgrieve, community development facilitator, said: ‘The Social Prescribing service provides a two-way benefit for GPs and patients and has been working really well.

‘Patients are offered direct access to support that they may otherwise have not been aware of.

This will be expanded to incorporate voluntary organisations. It will be specifically aimed at people who may have lost their jobs, or reached pensionable age, and who may be depressed as a result.’