Exploring experiences of living with mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK: A coproduced, participatory study

This is a qualitative study of the experiences of people with mental health difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews, informed by researchers working from a lived experience perspective, enabled the research team to address some of the limitations of COVID-19 research to date, by exploring in depth and directly the perspectives, difficulties, and coping strategies of people with pre-existing mental health problems, testing whether the early concerns raised in our initial evidence synthesis held up over time and whether staff perceptions match the real concerns of those using services.

To best capture and make sense of people’s experiences we employed a hybrid participatory, coproduction approach to conducting a qualitative interview study. Coproduction of qualitative research has been described as allowing flexibility and shared decision-making, alongside reflection on the interpretive process, across researchers working from experiential, clinical and academic perspectives. Methods were adapted to respond to the challenges of working remotely during the pandemic with all interviews being undertaken online and teams of researchers undertaking analysis remotely.

We sought to integrate experiential knowledge into the interpretive process, capturing interviewees’ experiences of mental health and COVID-19 onto a coding matrix, using general principles of thematic analysis. Through online workshops the research team produced a preliminary coding framework, refining and amalgamating thematic ideas from individual matrices. The preliminary framework was used to code all interviews, listening back to interviews and charting quotes and analytical memos onto coding matrices. At a further workshop the framework was refined once more, discussing and adding new themes and modifying existing themes as necessary.