Social Prescription

The health and well-being of individuals and communities are complex. They are impacted by a range of factors, such as where you are born, live, work and age. It is also becoming clear that these factors influence one another. Studies show that people living with depression, chronic pain, anxiety and stress can reduce their symptoms when they feel more connected to community.

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”

Navigating support services to address one’s unique interests and needs can be challenging, especially when experiencing severe barriers like poverty. As a leader in supporting this network, United Way is participating in a growing movement to explore social prescription, an emerging movement for ensuring that people have the physical, mental and social support they need to thrive.

What is Social Prescription?

Social prescriptions allow healthcare and social sector professionals to refer people to non-medical treatment as tools for improving health and well-being.

For example, if a person is feeling lonely and enjoys art, their doctor might prescribe them a free pass to an art gallery. This is just one example – the social prescription will change depending on an individual’s needs and interests.

United Way partnered with local leaders to share their experiences with social prescription. To learn more, check out the webinar recording below.

Exploring a Local Model

Just like individuals, unique communities may require different social prescription models. To better understand what one might look like in Halton and Hamilton, United Way led research and community engagement to understand existing resources, needs, and what models might exist.

In partnership with McMaster University and the Mitacs Accelerate Program, United Way conducted a literature review that identified four types of social prescription models. In practice, features of these different models may be combined, or new practices might emerge to reflect local realities.

  • Clinical Model: Based on the existing biomedical model of health, focused on reducing medical symptoms
  • Holistic Model: Addresses health in a holistic way, including social factors
  • Empowerment Model: Builds on the holistic model, and includes co-producing the social prescription with the individual
  • Healthy Community Model: A unique model that focuses on the health and well-being of the community

United Way engaged more than 100 community stakeholders about their perspectives on social prescription. While most did not use the term, several existing practices were identified that are implementing core components of social prescription. In general, community partners were in favour of developing more social prescription models as a way to reduce silos of care and improve diverse determinants of health to create vibrant communities.

To learn more about our academic research, please read our report by clicking here.

Join the Conversations


Social prescription can facilitate collaboration across diverse sectors to create a comprehensive and accessible network of care. United Way’s research and community engagement highlights how diverse social prescription can be and how multiple models are already emerging in Halton and Hamilton. As the movement evolves, United Way continues to explore models through participation in Provincial and National Communities of Practice, and local conversations.

Are you an organization or stakeholder interested in learning more about our community conversations or exploring new opportunities? Contact Vivien Underdown at

Thank you to our lead partners on this initiative:

This program is funded by:

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded $115 million to 644 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.

Sarah HodgsonSocial Prescription