Feeling depressed or anxious? Doctors can now prescribe a trip to the ROM

A new program launching in January allows doctors to prescribe passes to the Royal Ontario Museum to treat anxiety and depression

Starting in January 2019, doctors can prescribe patients a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum to treat anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

As part of their “social prescription” initiative, the ROM’s new year-long program gives doctors and healthcare providers at 20 community agencies across the province the ability to give out free passes to the museum.

In total, the ROM is providing 5,000 passes, each valid for four people or four total visits. The passes give participants access to any of the general admission galleries and certain special exhibitions.

Originating in the UK, social prescriptions are a way for doctors to recommend social activities, including visiting art galleries and museums, instead of medication to treat mental health. Although the ROM is the first museum to provide the service in Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts also launched a similar program this year.

“A lot of us are looking for ways to reflect, engage and make sense of our world,” says the ROM’s CEO and director Josh Basseches in an interview with NOW. “There’s research that shows that coming to a museum allows you to take a step away from your everyday life to break down walls of social isolation and to think differently about yourself and your place in the world.”  

This summer, the ROM launched the pilot with the Rexdale Community Health Centre, providing 50 free passes to members who showed symptoms of anxiety, depression or social isolation.

According to Basseches, the reaction from the pilot was positive and some participants found that visiting the ROM allowed them to feel secure in their own sense of identity.

“When people come from diverse or diasporic communities, it can be reinforcing to see a reflection of their cultural experience and heritage in the museum,” says Basseches. “That’s what we heard from the Rexdale Community Health Centre, and that lead us to expand the program.”

In January, the program will include 20 agencies, including CAMH, the Peel Children’s Centre, Oasis Addiction Recovery Society and Bellwood Health Services, which are all part of the ROM Community Access Network, a program to help make the museum more accessible.

Next year, the ROM plans to expand the social prescription program to 100 agencies. 


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