Stanford students enjoying art created by their peers. (Image credit: Nikolas Liepins / Stanford Arts)

Starting in January 2024, Stanford University will begin offering arts-based social prescribing to students through Vaden Health Services. This expansion of mental health services is being championed by Deborah Cullinan, vice president for the arts, and administrated by Art Pharmacy, a non-pharmaceutical mental health solution. Through this collaboration, Stanford is the first major university and educational institution to launch a comprehensive, social prescription program available to students to address well-being.

Social prescribing is a practice through which health care providers prescribe social care or social interventions as supplements to traditional clinical and pharmaceutical care. Arts-based prescriptions for Stanford students could be participatory experiences, such as taking a poetry workshop, dropping into the Roble Art Gym to paint, or sitting in on a jam session at CoHo. The prescriptions could also be receptive experiences, such as seeing an exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center or the Anderson Collection, attending a concert at Bing Concert Hall or Frost Amphitheater, or watching a dance performance at Memorial Auditorium.

“As someone who has been working at the intersection of arts, culture, belonging, and health, I have seen the positive impact that engagement in the arts can have on individual mental health and community wellness,” said Cullinan. “To paraphrase my colleague Christopher Bailey, the arts and health lead for the World Health Organization, creative engagement is intrinsically part of our human nature, as fundamental as breathing and walking and speaking, and as such, it is a fundamental part of health.

“One of the cornerstones of my work at Stanford is implementing arts-based strategies that create connection and emotional and physical well-being. This campus offers a wealth of engagement opportunities, and there couldn’t be a better time to introduce this approach to wellness to students.”

Stanford students participate in making art on campus. (Image credit: Nikolas Liepins / Stanford Arts)

“If there is an evidence-based, curated way to leverage Stanford’s exquisite resources in the visual and performing arts to support student mental health and well-being, we are all-in,” said James Jacobs, executive director of Vaden Health Services and associate vice provost, in support of Art Pharmacy’s social prescribing program.

The goal of the program is to improve health outcomes for participating students through Art Pharmacy’s tech-enabled, human-powered social prescribing solution. By working with Vaden Health Services, Art Pharmacy aims to improve student well-being and reduce the risk of crisis care. Its proprietary smart-matching technology and personalized care navigation consider clinical needs, participant preferences, and decades of research to address the increasing demand for mental health options and providers. The company integrates into the care continuum by incorporating participant monitoring and adherence programs.

“Amid the current student mental health crisis throughout the U.S., Art Pharmacy is proud to bring the social prescribing movement to Stanford’s student population,” said Chris Appleton, founder and chief executive officer of Art Pharmacy. “Anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation rates on college campuses are at an all-time high while mental health providers nationwide are overwhelmed. Introducing non-stigmatized, readily available mental health interventions is critical to reducing suffering amongst college students.”

Vaden’s well-being coaches or student life staff members will refer students to Art Pharmacy care navigators. Once a referral is submitted, students will be contacted by the care navigator and complete a short intake form that will help them understand the student’s wellness goals and arts interests. Based on this information, the care navigator will match students with monthly arts and culture experiences on campus, referred to as “doses.” All activity-related expenses, including tickets, transportation, and additional accommodations, are covered by Stanford. Each prescription is good for the rest of the current academic year at no cost to participants.

“We are thrilled to begin this initiative at Stanford, one of the nation’s top universities,” said Lucy Rabinowitz Bailey, head of research at Art Pharmacy. “Art Pharmacy is focused on patient experience, efficacy, and community-based care, and we can’t wait to see the ripple effect that it will have on the lives of so many of these students.”