Use of co-production to explore food insecurity in adults with severe mental illness living in Northern England: a mixed-methods study

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Background: People living with severe mental illness experience premature mortality from diet-related preventable illnesses. Yet, little research focuses on food insecurity with adults with severe mental illness. This coproduced study aimed to understand the experiences of adults with severe mental illness and food insecurity and strategies to help.

Methods: Following a pragmatism philosophical foundation, we undertook a mixed-methods study involving a survey (online and paper versions) and one-to-one semi-structured interviews (online and telephone) during March 7 to Dec 16, 2022. We recruited participants via existing severe mental illness service user groups and social media in Northern England. Eligible participants were adults (≥18 years) self-reporting a diagnosis of severe mental illness. Ethics approval was obtained from Teesside University and the Health Research Authority (Reference: 22/NR/0010; IRAS ID: 306281), with informed consent given. The target sample size, accounting for a typical survey response rate for people with severe mental illness of 10-20%, was 135. A target sample of 20 interviews was agreed to capture a range of views. Food insecurity was defined as the lack of financial resources needed to ensure someone has reliable access to enough food to meet their dietary, nutritional, and social needs. It is sometimes called food poverty. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and binary logistic regression and qualitative data using thematic analysis.

Findings: 135 participants completed the survey (mean age 44·67 years [SD 14·1]). Participants were predominantly male (53%, n=72), white (87%, n=117), and from the Yorkshire region (50%, n=68). Overall, prevalence of food insecurity was 50·4% (n=68). Discussion across 13 interviews found food insecurity being a long-rooted experience, including familial and intergenerational experiences of food insecurity: "I grew up… with this insecurity around food" (P002). Recommendations for tackling food insecurity centred on food banks, increasing accessibility, and reducing stigma: "I would like to get more information on where the centres are..." (P006) and "I was referred to, erm, a foodbank … but it's still the stigma that's attached to it." (P002).

Interpretation: We found a higher prevalence of food insecurity in this study than in the general population (being 15%), yet limited research with adults with severe mental illness perpetuates food insecurity intergenerational injustices. Food insecurity should be eliminated. However, in the meanwhile, there should be widespread easy access to food banks offering nutritional foods. Limitations of this research include not reaching target sample size and a lack of ethnic diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberS44
Issue numberSpecial issue 1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023

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