I was having a chat with a friend a few days ago. He said “I have heard people talking about social capital and social prescribing. I don’t really know what they mean, do you?”
“Umm, not too easy”, I said. “I know it’s nothing to do with money, it’s not measurable and it’s all to do with your quality of life”.
“Sounds interesting”! He wanted to know more but I could not really help him right then.
A couple of days later I attended a meeting discussing these concepts and I now have a much better idea of what they mean. Just out of interest I typed ‘social capital’ into Google and I got this definition.
‘The networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively’.
It’s all a bit woolly. Here are my thoughts. Social capital is a concept or idea. Your group of friends make your world a good and happy place to live in. We each make our own social capital so then it is easier to enjoy life, do the things that are rewarding and bring you pleasure.
Each person is unique therefore their social capital is going to be unique. My best friend will have social capital but his is different from mine.
A brief history
My social capital when I worked was not good. The last 15 years of my working life was spent as a contractor. I was working all over the world and I enjoyed living in different cultures. I was working out of the country for the last 12 years but usually home at the weekends so it was difficult to form new friendships. On top of that I would change contracts approximately every 15 months so new workplace.
Medical retirement in 2012 because of MS was a huge game changer for me. I soon realised I would have to make my own social capital from scratch. I have managed this despite the limitations imposed upon my life because of advanced multiple sclerosis.
Improving my social capital
I do now lead a full and busy life. Plus The Wife and I go to the theatre or museums in London at least once a month and both of us enjoy food. There is just one thing, I want my own friends rather than been friendly with The Wife’s friends. I am slowly getting there, however as you get older it becomes more difficult.
Our modern lives are surprisingly isolating.
Apparently the West is becoming wealthier but the sense of community in this space is withering. For example there are people who are not disabled, have a computer and do everything using the internet. They do all their work online, do their shopping online and only interact with other people through their computers using social media. That is their choice but I think it must be a lonely life.
Also let’s not forget about the people who are skint or lonely or out of work or even just elderly and probably don’t have access to the Internet in the house. These people can easily go for over 24 hours not talking to another soul. Their social capital must be very small.
Social capital is about communicating with people socially, building up connections, relationships and trust. I am very lucky, the small town where I live is rich in social capital. Even so there are people in this town with a wide range of social needs that cannot be fixed through a medical prescription so a route to improving their mental well-being and physical health is necessary. In fact these people are everywhere.
I looked at my own transferable skills and built up my own social capital but it was not easy. An alternative way is social prescribing or community referral. This is giving GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals the opportunity to refer people to a range of local non-clinical services.
Was I lucky or did I create my own luck or social prescription? Not everyone is like me, thank goodness. Neither of these ideas are new but there so many people who need social capital and social prescribing to get there.
Please just take a moment and think about two things. What is your most socially rewarding activity? And what social activity would you really like? Enrich the first and try to build the second.
By Patrick Burke
Patrick was diagnosed with RRMS in 1995 but believes his symptoms started in 1972. The disease turned into SPMS in about 1999/2000. He was forced to take medical retirement in 2012 and set up the website Aid4Disabled in the same year. The website is the story of his MS since retirement and it describes a wide range of objects that are readily available for people with physical disabilities to improve their quality of life. Patrick is also a member of the Barts MS Advisory Group.