We know that people experience social and structural inequalities and we know that these inequalities impact public mental health. A growing number of projects and research studies are addressing this, but one of the knowledge gaps that remains is understanding how people experience such inequalities and how these affect their mental health – from their own perspectives, in their own words. We want to learn and understand what experiencing these inequalities means in the context of their day-to-day lives, how it affects those around them, how it affects their communities, and what their priorities for change are. With this knowledge, both led and generated by the people themselves, we can uncover new findings and interpret existing data from a new angle.
Working in Harrow and Lambeth, we will be using an interactive research method called Photo-Voice, followed by qualitative interviews. Photo-Voice has been used in the past to give those who often remain ignored, overlooked, or unheard, a platform to get their messages across. In the context of this project, Photo-Voice encourages people to reflect on their experiences of social and structural inequality in relation to mental health, largely by taking photos, but also by making videos, drawing, painting, writing, etc. to ‘voice’ their opinions, convey their feelings and share their understandings. In the second stage of the research, participants will be invited to an interview to reflect upon 3 or 4 photos from their Photo-Voice collection, with the space and time to talk in depth about experiences of inequality and mental health. Interview data will be analysed thematically to develop an understanding of themes and important findings that may inform and improve public mental health. We intend to produce a peer reviewed article, a photo-book, and hold an exhibit.
This research project will be led by a team of skilled peer researchers who offer expertise in lived experience; who understand the challenges that people with mental health issues face. In addition, there will be input from McPin Foundation research team and advisors at Fuse. Thus, public involvement is built into the research project from conception, through data collection and write up. The team has been working with “community connectors” within the target sites to promote this research opportunity, with efforts made to ensure that participation is accessible, inclusive and meaningful for all participants. People in the community who support the study, as well as the participants themselves will be invited to contribute to decisions over dissemination, and in that way shape and be involved in the process as public contributors as well as research participants.
Because of the way in which this research is being developed and conducted, the project will set an example of how public involvement can influence change. This model we hope will impact the wider population to become inspired and actively involved in creating the changes that will improve lives both as individuals and as communities. We hope it will have an impact on the public’s ability and willingness to act collectively to ensure any changes identified are brought to fruition, thereby converting a culture of feeling ‘powerless’ into one of being ‘empowered’, and helping to ensure that such a practice continues over time.