Public Mental Health: what affects a population’s mental health?

What is the research?

Public mental health is the art and science of promoting mental health and wellbeing, and preventing mental illness. It acknowledges that the physical, familial, social, cultural, economic and political environments in which people are born, grow, live, work and age have important implications for mental health. 

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?

The aim of the programme is to identify the broad determinants and core outcomes of public mental health as well as promising interventions that improve wellbeing and reduce inequalities.

The programme is organised into four work streams with research conducted within and across these, including applied research in children, young people, adults and older adults.

It is a nationwide programme run in collaboration with University College London, Imperial College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cambridge, University of Sheffield, University of Bristol, LiLac (the universities of Liverpool and Lancaster) and Fuse (the universities of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland, and Teesside). 

The four streams are:

  • Conceptual Framework – what is public mental health?
  • Core Outcomes – can we develop a way to systematically measure it?
  • Children and Young People – how do educational settings impact on mental health and how can school-based interventions reduce inequalities, particularly for LGBT+ people?
  • Evidence Reviews and Mapping – what does existing research on adults facing psychosocial stressors, older adults, black and minority ethnic individuals say? Can we map out local community-based interventions and how these respond to the needs of the community?

We are currently in Phase 2 of the Public Mental Health (PMH) programme, building on the findings and conceptual work from Phase 1 to generate high-quality evidence to improve population mental health.

Work package 5 (WP5) focuses on evaluating promising interventions to improve the mental health of adults, and will run in parallel with work package 6 (WP6), which focuses on improving the mental health of children and young people. 

WP5 will evaluate the promising interventions and key drivers of public mental health outcomes that were identified in Phase 1.

In order to explore these interventions and policy changes further, we will use a range of approaches, including mixed methods evaluation, economic evaluations, participatory action research, data science using national datasets, and systems simulation approaches in order to investigate promising interventions and their impact on public mental health.

Contained within WP5 are five inter-related research projects:

  • Project 5.1: Mixed methods evaluation of co-located welfare services in primary care and community settings
  • Project 5.2: Evaluation of co-located advice interventions for older adults
  • Project 5.3: Economic evaluation of promising public mental health interventions
  • Project 5.4: Using national routine health data and bespoke cohort data, and systems approaches to determine the impact of policy, interventions, and macrosocial shifts on public mental health outcomes
  • Project 5.5: Public perspectives on structural and systemic inequalities and their impact on public mental health using participatory action research

Why is this research important?

Public mental health is an international priority and a major challenge for public health practitioners. There is not much evidence on effective interventions, yet the need is clear.

The Public Mental Health Programme aims to respond to this need and generate new knowledge that practitioners can use to meaningfully make a difference. 

How is McPin Involved?

Public mental health is about the public. McPin is ensuring that the research both involves the public and goes back to the public.

We are coordinating public involvement across the programme, working with a team of Peer Researchers that bring a wealth of different lived experiences and identities. Their input broadens the lens through which the work is viewed and will inform and shape the research as it develops.

We are also engaging people beyond our core team through public workshops, consultations and social media. We are trying to expand the reach of the Public Mental Health Programme by influencing the way research is done and how the findings are shared.

Who is the public?

Everyone! This programme is a fantastic opportunity to learn what public involvement at a population level can look like and how we can do it meaningfully.

One way we are doing this is making sure that a diversity of people are involved at every stage of the study – people of different ages, gender identities, backgrounds, ethnicities, geographical locations and lived experiences of mental health.

We are also making sure that voices that are often unheard are sought out and truly listened to. These voices are often the ones that have been at the harsh end of inequalities and their perspectives are critical.

How long will the project run?

We have completed the first part, Phase 1. Phase 2 is now underway and is being shaped by the learnings from Phase 1. The project is due to be completed in March 2022 .

Who do I contact for more information?

For more information about the project, you can contact Gillian –

You can also follow #IamPublicMentalHealth and have your say, and read more about it in this blog!