Providing effective treatment and support for mental distress is a stated government aim. Within low-income communities, use of antidepressant medication is relatively high, but current strategies tend to frame mental distress as an individual psychological problem, rather than addressing the factors that are often the root causes of suffering.
This research is examining how moralising narratives relating to individual responsibility and welfare entitlements influence the medicalisation of mental distress caused by material deprivation and social disadvantage. In so doing, the research will inform a stated aim of the British Government’s No Health Without Mental Health strategy to effectively reduce health inequalities amongst vulnerable groups (HM Government 2011), and respond to recent calls to prioritise research examining the social determinants of mental distress (Mental Health Taskforce 2015).
Working in two low-income communities, the interdisciplinary research team are using a range of qualitative methods to gain in-depth and applied understanding of the role moral narratives play in:
- influencing individuals’ decisions to seek and accept medical support for mental distress;
- influencing healthcare consultation and prescribing practice.
This will provide an informed and nuanced contextualisation of data often missing from mental health research, and from low-income groups in particular.
Against a background of health-service cuts and on-going welfare reform, this interdisciplinary research project examines:
- why and how people’s ability to cope with poverty-related issues e.g. social isolation, unemployment, poor housing, has become increasingly pathologised;
- how high levels of antidepressant prescribing and use are impacting on people’s health and wellbeing in low-income communities in South West England;
- good healthcare practice and the potential for alternative responses to mental distress in potentially vulnerable populations.
This 30 month programme of research consists of two linked stages.
Firstly, 96 people from two targeted low-income areas will participate in focus groups to explore how moral narratives are defined and used/resisted in people’s daily lives.
Then, secondary analysis of 60 video-recorded consultations will enable insight into the contexts in which GPs and low-income patients discuss mental distress. Through in-depth analysis of 30 consultations we will identify how GP-patient interaction influences decision-making to prescribe/accept or withhold/reject treatment.
Further insights will be gained through interviews with 10 GPs in the study sites and repeat interviews with 40 people from low-income communities who have attended a GP consultation for mental distress.
The research programme will inform policy and practice regarding the development of effective, meaningful and non-stigmatising responses to mental distress in low-income communities.
Identification of GP practice (relating to mental distress) that enhances patient wellbeing will be developed into guidelines on good practice for health professionals working in low-income communities. These will be refined at a Regional Practitioner workshop, where a dissemination strategy that maximizes their utility for the health sector will be agreed. Participation in the workshop by local authorities charged with health provision will ensure findings feed in to local health plans e.g. Devon Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
Poverty-related distress is on the rise, but is medical intervention the answer?Download the ARC BITE
The impact of the Work Capability Assessment on mental health: claimants' lived experiences and GP perspectives in low-income communitiesDownload the Paper
Moral narratives and mental health: rethinking understandings of distress and healthcare support in contexts of austerity and welfare reformDownload the Paper
Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trialDownload the Paper
- Professor Rose McCabe
- Lorraine Hansford
- Susanne Hughes
- Dr Joseph Ford