Inequalities & Their Impact on Public Mental Health

A wooden sign against the sky. Black text on the sign reads 'Amplify your voice' with an arrow pointing down
Photo by Kelly Lacy

What is this study and why is it important?

Social and structural inequalities are understood as factors within society that advantage one group and disadvantage another. These include discrimination by way of race, age, (dis)ability, ethnicity, gender expression, neuro-diversity, sexuality, the disparity of financial resources, access to good housing and healthcare, and various other forms of marginalisation. 

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 your mental health – from your perspectives, in your own words. We want to learn and understand what experiencing these inequalities means in the context of your day-to-day lives, how it affects those around you, how it affects your communities, and what your priorities for change are. 

Working in Harrow and Lambeth, we will be using qualitative interviews and an interactive research method called PhotoVoice. PhotoVoice 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, PhotoVoice 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, as the example below shows:

‘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

What is the context of this research?

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

How are McPin and people affected by mental health problems involved?

A team of Peer Researchers based at McPin has been working on the Public Mental Health Programme for two years. The team contributes to all research projects on the programme and leads on this study into how people experience social and structural inequalities.

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.

What is the current status of the project?

We are in the process of recruiting participants to take part in our study – specifically people living in the London Boroughs of Harrow or Lambeth.

We want to work with 40 people using the PhotoVoice method described above. To take part please contact Peer Researcher Alex on or 07594 505289.

Read a blog from one of the research team about the impact of inequalities on public mental health and getting involved.