UCL News


Arts and sport to be prescribed to adolescents with mental ill health

27 October 2022

Social prescriptions for activities such as arts, music, dance and sports are to be offered to adolescents with depression and anxiety as part of a new project led by UCL researchers.

girls playing basketball

Social prescribing is being increasingly adopted by GPs in the UK to treat people with mental health problems but the vast majority of referrals are for adults.

The treatment works by connecting people to non-medical forms of support within the community, such as skills development and training programmes, including befriending schemes and cultural activities to empower individuals and address the social determinants of ill health.

For the new INSPYRE project, funded by the Prudence Trust and led by Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), the research team will work with children and teenagers aged 11 to 18 to look at how social prescribing might work best for young people with mental health conditions.

The programme will be delivered as a pilot project to 600 11- to 18-year-olds who are on mental health service waiting lists for conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. This will be carried out at a number of sites across England, in partnership with 10 NHS child and adolescent mental health trusts.

At the same time, the team will assess the feasibility, uptake and cost of the service, as well as its effectiveness, with the aim that the model they develop will be scaled nationally, bringing social prescribing to thousands more 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 programme aims to allow young people to choose what activities might suit them. These could be community or volunteering activities such as gardening, as well as a range of arts and sports groups, from roller skating to surfing. Once referred, the young people will work with a link worker who will help them identify activities that would be best for them.

The programme aims to support young people’s mental health at a time when their need has been identified but conventional treatment may not be in place for some time.

The Prudence Trust is a charity investing in the advancement of young people’s mental health services and research in the UK.

Director of the Prudence Trust, Tara Leathers, 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.”

Chair of the UCL Children and Young People’s Mental Health Strategy implementation group, Professor Essi Viding (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), added: “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.”



Media contact 

Poppy Danby 

E: p.danby [at] ucl.ac.uk