Culture by prescription

Image: Irish Times

An interesting article in this week’s Irish Times Health, reports that  Swedish doctors will soon be able to prescribe singing lessons, pottery classes or art appreciation as part of a new public healthcare initiative. Sweeden is testing a new approach – Culture by Prescription – in a state-funded pilot project to reduce sickness benefit, doctors’ visits and the “pill-popping” associated with long-term depression and stress-related illness.

The long dark winters when daylight lasts less than six hours as far south as Stockholm and far fewer hours further north, the reliance of some Swedes on alcohol to lift their spirits, and a genetic tendency towards being introverted prevents some of them from seeking help for depression and related illnesses. Immigrants fleeing wars in the Balkans and Iraq, who were granted residency in Sweden, continue to suffer from post-war trauma without adequate back-up, and are among those most in need of help. These people will be targeted in the pilot project launched in southwest Sweden, says clinic supervisor Anna Carin Persdotter of Capio Citykliniken, which is about to put it into operation. 

 The new Culture by Prescription (Kultur på Recept) trial will target patients suffering from low- and medium-grade depression, stress and anxiety, as well as those who have had back, shoulder or neck pains lasting more than three or more months. Initially, doctors in Skåne in southwest Sweden will be able to prescribe a range of cultural activities for patients in conjunction with their traditional treatment and rehabilitation.

“There has been a good reaction from doctors who feel that both body and mind should be stimulated for maximum recovery and we have already done years of research proving that culture is a healing health-promoting part of care,” says Christina Gedeborg-Nilsson, head of culture and healthcare division in the Skåne region.

Gedeborg-Nilsson talks of patients who suffer from “a spiritual anorexia”, people who have withdrawn from society and various help channels, who are lonely, have no social networks and may be suffering physically and mentally, but are unaware of the connection between their needs and the availability of healthcare.

Launching the Culture by Prescription project, Swedish social security minister Cristina Husmark Pehrsson said: “We know that illnesses affect people in different ways and can lead to absences due to sickness of varying lengths of time. “My hope is that Culture by Prescription can offer new insights into how culture, in a more pronounced way, can be a part of rehabilitation for extended absences due to illness.” 

 Source: Irish Times Health