Social prescribing for child and youth mental health and wellbeing: A systemic review of the evidence

Our partners at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) in collaboration with CORC Director Kate Dalzell, investigated the evidence base around social prescribing (SP) to improve the mental health and/or wellbeing of children and young people (CYP).

Social prescribing: Why are we looking at it and why is it important?

In the last 15 years, there has been a shift from the concept of the biomedical health care model to the biopsychosocial model. This recognises that health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, rather than just biological. Social prescribing seeks to address these wider factors by providing a wider range of support beyond medicine or therapy. Social prescribing has been used in settings outside of mental health (Chatterjee, 2017). More recently it has been applied to adult mental health where improvements in anxiety levels and in feelings about general health and quality of life were found (Kimberlee, 2013). However, no review has yet examined social prescribing interventions for child mental health and wellbeing.

What is meant by social prescribing?

Social prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer people to a range of non-clinical services. A definition states it as being "a mechanism for linking patients with non-medical sources of support within the community" (CentreForum Mental Health Commission, 2014). Sometimes referred to other names such as ‘community referral’, it can include, but not be limited to: Arts on Prescription; Books on Prescription; Education on Prescription; Signposting/Information Referral; Meditation on Prescription. 

What happens to information provided?

Any information about services that is provided will be assessed against inclusion criteria for this review. EBPU may also contact services that offer social prescribing initiatives to find out more about whether they have been evaluated. After this, EBPU synthesises findings from this review and produces a paper on its findings. 


Kimberlee, R. (2013) Developing a social prescribing approach for Bristol. Project Report. Bristol Health & Wellbeing Board, UK. Available from:

CentreForum Mental Health Commission . (2014). The pursuit of happiness: A new ambition for our mental health . Retrieved from

Summary of findings (March 2020)

Pockets of social prescribing were discovered across the UK, yet currently there is a dearth of evidence to support its effect on mental health and wellbeing. Possible reasons for this lack of evidence are discussed, and recommendations for future research are outlined.

Read the full review here

The following databases were searched until September 2019:

PsycINFO, EMBASE, Medline, and Cochrane Libraries. In addition to academic journals, requests for grey literature were sent through the following networks: Public Health England Children Young People and Families Monthly Update, the Youth Social Prescribing Network, the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), and the Headstart national evaluation programme. This review was open to all study types (e.g. RCTs, pre-post studies, and qualitative research). The following inclusion criteria were used: included a CYP, record details in English, focused on mental health and/or wellbeing (including quality of life), and included a healthcare professional who referred CYP onto a link worker to facilitate a SP activity.

Results & Conclusions:

Overall, 1,307 records were retrieved and searched. However, no studies or grey literature met inclusion criteria. Given the paucity of evidence, no conclusions can be drawn in relation to the role of SP to improve the mental health and/or wellbeing of CYP. Prior to investigating effectiveness, researchers may wish to investigate the intended role/function this serves in systems and care pathways for child and youth mental health - including its acceptability to CYP given current policy frameworks for patient activation and person-centred care. If so, further consideration should be given about what this may look like, as well as the nuances and challenges of translating this from an adult setting.

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