Community and cultural engagement can support recovery, help symptom management and increase social connections for people with lived experience of mental health conditions. However, research suggests that people with mental health conditions experience significant barriers to participation. The aim of this study was to explore barriers and enablers of participation in community and cultural activities among people with mental health conditions.
A qualitative interview study with 23 people with mild-to-moderate mental health conditions was undertaken. Data were analysed thematically, and themes were mapped to domains of the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation Model of Behaviour (COM-B).
Eleven themes were identified from the analysis. Three themes involved participant Capability: physical skills, psychological traits and physical health limitations and three themes related to Opportunity: affordability and accessibility, structure and nature of the group, and support from others to attend. Five themes mapped to Motivation: creative identity, recovery and coping, enjoyment and fun, connecting with others, and information and planning. Participants were motivated to engage with community and cultural activities through “a creative identity”, belief that engagement would help recovery from mental illness, and a desire to connect with others and make friends. Motivation to participate was sustained by the enjoyable nature of activities. However, participants’ ability to engage was hampered by the expense, inaccessibility and sometimes unstructured nature of activities, and social anxiety associated with attending. Some participants had physical limitations such as fatigue or physical health problems to overcome. Interventions that could address these barriers include peer support, training for social prescribers to account for identity and previous experiences of participation, training for community organisations in providing a welcoming and structured environment, and provision of long-term sustainable funding to community organisations to subsidise attendance, transport or equipment costs.
People with mental health conditions may be at risk of experiencing barriers to community and cultural engagement due to existing social inequalities and social anxiety, however believing that involvement will support mental health was an enabler to participation. Future studies are needed to test the effectiveness of potential interventions to address the barriers and harness the facilitators identified here, to enable a more socially inclusive community and voluntary sector, and a potentially more responsive and effective social prescribing service in the UK for people experiencing mental health problems.