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Inequalities and their Impact on Public Mental Health

Using the PhotoVoice method to provide a different way for people who often remain ignored, overlooked, or unheard, a platform to get their messages across in relation to inequality and mental health

Project overview

Social and structural inequalities include discrimination by way of race, age, disability, ethnicity, gender expression, neurodiversity, sexuality, the disparity of financial resources, access to good housing and healthcare, and various other forms of marginalisation.   

We want to learn and understand what experiencing these inequalities means in the context of someone’s day-to-day life, how it affects those around us, how it affects our communities, and what the priorities for change are.  

Working in Harrow and Lambeth, we used qualitative interviews and a research method called PhotoVoice, which can provide a different way for people who often remain ignored, overlooked, or unheard, a platform to get their messages across.  

In this context, we encouraged 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 to voice their opinions, convey their feelings and share their understandings. 

This study is one of several projects conducted as part of the Public Mental Health Programme funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research.  

An abstract arty image of a perfume bottle lying on top of colourful fabric, which a hazy glow.

A Diary of Scent’ by Gillian Samuel, COVID Life Project at

Through the use of art, photography and creative writing, Gillian was able to find her voice to reflect on the experience of lockdown. Such methods can be adopted using Photovoice to explore and express thoughts around structural inequalities.

Read A Diary of Scent

Project details

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 they affect mental health – from an individual’s perspective, in their own words. 

The Public Mental Health Programme is concerned with mental health at the population level, and aims to answer questions such as: What does a mentally healthy population look like? What determines this? How do we improve outcomes? Where should we focus our efforts? 

This study is the only project within the public mental health programme (2018-2022) to adopt a peer-led approach, working with peer researchers to design and deliver a project, influenced by the teams’ own experiences of oppression and inequality.  

A team of peer researchers based at McPin contributed to all research projects on the NIHR SPHR mental health programme and led on this study into how the public experience social and structural inequalities, and the impact on mental health.  

Previous work has involved the facilitation of public involvement workshops, reviewing key research literature and shaping the discussion and planning across many areas of the programme.

A key feature of this project was being peer-led. 

For more information please email [email protected].

You can also visit the #IAmPublicMentalHealth website.


Project resources


Conceptual Framework for Public Mental Health

An interactive tool bringing together evidence from academic research, reports, and practitioner and public consultations to map out factors affecting mental health.
Community • Inequality • Public mental health | 28th February 2023

Work with us

We are always excited to hear from others who want to collaborate on mental health research. From delivering peer research to helping you with public involvement strategies and providing training, get in touch to chat.