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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.

GP Involvment in the Project

Creating conditions for health & local communities involved in the project


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 ten GPs in the study sites and repeat interviews with 40 people from low-income communities who have attended a GP consultation for mental distress.