DRAWING classes, singing sessions, dance workshops, poetry reading lists, film and book clubs, could all be offered to Edinburgh students struggling with their mental well-being, under a new culture prescribing programme being considered by the university.

The drive to use culture as a form of self-help instead of, or in conjunction with, other therapies prescribed by the GP is the proposal of Edinburgh University’s museum service in response to an increasing body of research highlighting the health benefits of social prescribing.

The university’s Prescribe Culture pilot is currently at early stages, with plans to trial the approach in the next academic year. Cultural partners already signed up include the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

While the pilot will be entirely carried out within the University of Edinburgh student community, if it is successful the ambition is to roll it out across the city.

Under the scheme university student support officers, campus GPs, nurses and other care professionals, will make referrals to a range of non-clinical services available from the University’s museums and galleries and other partner cultural organisations across Edinburgh.

Students will also be able to self-refer.

Ruthanne Baxter, University of Edinburgh’s museums services manager, who is leading on the project, said that while social prescribing had been widely used in England, it was still less common in Scotland.

Social prescribing projects have been used in areas of deprivation in Glasgow to help boost health outcomes.

Meanwhile NHS leaders in Tayside recently revealed ambitions to roll out programmes aiming to increase people’s social networks and reduce isolation.

But Baxter said the approach could easily be adapted for the needs of students struggling with loneliness, isolation and anxiety. Recent research has suggested that the effects of loneliness could be as damaging to health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, while tiredness and inactivity caused by a sedentary lifestyle has now been linked to both addiction and depression.

“For a lot of students they are away from home for the first time, settling into somewhere new, looking after their own finances,” she said. “A lot of students will be dealing with anxieties and mental health issues.

“I’ve done a fair bit of desk research and most of the activities in Scotland are in Glasgow in situations of deprivation. I thought it would be interesting to look at students, who are much younger and from different backgrounds, could benefit. It’s an area where people come with perceptions but often these are not accurate. We are very excited to see how it will be received.”

The project team is working with GPs and student support officers and recruiting additional cultural partners as part of its development phase. Both group work – such as music and book clubs – and individual programmes, including reading lists, collection tours and volunteering opportunities, will be developed.

The museum service, which is just a few years old, already has a dementia programme but is keen to find other ways in which the collection could be useful as an engagement tool, rather than only a research one.

The university holds several important collections including those at the Anatomical Museum, the Talbot Rice Gallery and St Cecilia’s concert room and music museum.

Baxter insisted she was not expecting it to replace traditional approaches. “We accept that it’s no magic bullet,” she added. “But it may bring a level of comfort.”

Hannah Lavery, learning and engagement co-ordinator for the Scottish Poetry Library – one of the first cultural organisations to sign up – said: “We have a long history of working with vulnerable groups, and using poetry to promote and support well-being, and so this was a very natural fit for us. “We were really keen to bring together our experience and passion and build upon that within the social prescribing model.”

The library aims to launch “a welcoming and supportive user guide” to the library which will include reading activity to promote mindfulness. “We will also host a series of gatherings at the library to support people through poetry, offering a place of sanctuary in the city,” she added.

“We hope to develop the poetry library as a centre of well-being where poetry is a resource for good health, and a tool to develop resilience, and where through activity we can help to alleviate the growing problem of social isolation. Poetry is, in many ways, an exploration of what it is to be human, and can offer much solace and insight in its ability to say you are not alone and is particularly restorative in the ways it can slow the world for you, allowing you moments to wonder and be stilled.”