UCL Institute of Mental Health


Social prescribing research project to address children and young people’s mental health

26 October 2022

UCL researchers will co-design a new programme of social prescribing to treat mental ill-health in children and young people, thanks to a philanthropic grant from the Prudence Trust.

child colouring in a picture at school

Social prescribing focuses on connecting people to non-medical forms of support within the community including skills development and training programmes; peer support and befriending schemes; and social, cultural and community activities to empower individuals and address social determinants of ill health.

The INSPYRE project, led by Dr Daisy Fancourt, will trial offering immediate social prescribing treatments to children and young people referred to services for moderate mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. Currently, many children and young people face long waits for mental health services, during which time their mental health often deteriorates. The INSPYRE social prescribing pathway will be offered as children and young people wait for their treatments. The project will run at a number of sites in England and Wales.

Dr Fancourt and her team will conduct a study to assess social prescribing’s potential for supporting children and young people, their parents/guardians, and children and young adult mental health services. The study will consider the feasibility, uptake and cost of delivering the service to 600 children and young people, and the potential for scaling the pathway to more mental health service sites and developing a model for embedding social prescribing that can be scaled nationally, bringing social prescribing to more children and young people who could benefit.

Dr Fancourt said: “Social prescribing has been rolled out nationally by the NHS since 2018, but unfortunately many children and young people are not engaging in social prescribing and the evidence base for this population is still in its infancy. I’m delighted that the Prudence Trust are funding this programme, which has the potential to increase social prescribing among children and young people by offering a new pathway to community activities, enhancing person-centred care, and positively transforming the experiences of children and young people on mental health service waiting lists.”

The Prudence Trust is a charity investing in the advancement of young people’s mental health services and research in the UK. In addition to funding the INSPYRE programme, they are funding a 3-year Fellowship in Children and Young people’s Mental Health at UCL. Research conducted during the Fellowship will focus on improving the mental health of children and young people (primarily ages 8-25) through prevention and early intervention in anxiety and depression.

Tara Leathers, Director of the Prudence Trust, said: “UCL is a powerhouse of children and young people’s mental health research. We want to partner with organisations which can help to advance our understanding of children and young people’s mental health and whose research will have a real-world impact. Dr Fancourt’s INSPYRE programme has the potential to significantly increase social prescribing youth referrals, and to build a strong knowledge base through the development of a new social prescribing care pathway. We look forward to exploring the impact of this project on children and young people’s mental health.”

Prof. Essi Viding, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Chair of the UCL Children and Young People’s Mental Health Strategy implementation group, played a leading role in UCL’s application to become a Prudence Trust university research partner. Professor Viding said: “UCL is in a unique position to conduct novel and ground-breaking research into children’s and young people’s mental health, thanks to the breadth of different research traditions that are found at UCL. Through the new Fellowship in Children and Young People’s Mental Health and support of our social prescribing work, the Prudence Trust’s contributions have the potential to deliver significant improvements to children and young people’s mental health, and to supporting the mental health services who work with them. I am delighted that the Prudence Trust is partnering with us to enable this work.”

Angharad Milenkovic, Vice-President (Advancement) at UCL, said: “Philanthropic gifts make a huge difference in enabling us to move research forward at a greater pace than would otherwise be possible. The support of the Prudence Trust will increase our understanding of the effective prevention and treatment of children and young people’s mental ill health and make a real difference to their lives and those of their families.” 

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Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay.