The COVID-19 pandemic and associated ‘lockdowns’ profoundly impacted people's lives in 2020–2021 and beyond. This study sought to understand unique person-centred insights into health and wellbeing during the restrictive measures in the United Kingdom and to enable us to remember and give testimony to these lived experiences. Using photo-methods, participants from a larger cohort study which tracked people's behaviours during the pandemic were invited to share photographs and short text to visually illustrate their ephemeral and unique COVID-19 experiences. In total 197 participants shared 398 photographs. Using a critical realist approach in our design and analysis, we sought to gain an alternative viewpoint on what ‘lockdown’ and the pandemic meant. Our major findings revealed starkly contrasting experiences illustrated in our two major themes. Firstly loss, including ambiguous losses and a sense of loss, loss of freedoms and death. Secondly, salutogenesis (what makes us well) whereby participants were able to draw on assets which helped to keep them well by maintaining social connection, ‘making the best of it’, reconnecting with nature and appreciating the outdoors, creativity for pleasure and faith. Our findings illuminate widely differing experiences and indicate the powerful effect of assets that were perceived by our participants to protect their wellbeing. Understanding differential vulnerability will be essential going forward to target resources appropriately to those who have the least control over their lives, those with the greatest vulnerabilities and least assets which in turn could support a self-perpetuating recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116080
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date7 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023


  • COVID-19 inequalities
  • Loss
  • Photo-elicitation
  • Qualitative
  • Salutogenesis

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