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Phone-based psychological care could combat loneliness, depression: Study

A new study shows that psychological care provided through phone calls could prevent loneliness as well as depression.

The study showed that weekly phone calls helped improve older adults' mental health and quality of life.(Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 06.02.2024  |  03:00 PM IST

Loneliness is a pressing global health threat, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared in November last year. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy even said the mortality effect of loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. However, there is a lack of clarity about what works in combating the issue. A new study shows that psychological care provided through phone calls could prevent loneliness as well as depression.

Researchers from the University of York conducted a clinical trial during the Covid-19 pandemic wherein hundreds of older people (aged above 65 years) received weekly phone calls over eight weeks from a specially trained coach who motivated them to remain active and maintain their social bonds. The university’s press statement revealed that the calls helped improve their mental health and quality of life.

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The participants reported that their levels of emotional loneliness were reduced by 21% over three months, Notably, the benefits continued even after the phone calls ceased. According to the researchers, the study represents an improvement in understanding what works in preventing loneliness. The findings were published in the journal The Lancet (Healthy Longevity).

In the statement, Dean McMillan, who designed and led the telephone support programme, said "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this trial shows how we can prevent both depression and loneliness."

Previous studies have also shown that one of the ways to combat loneliness is by talking on the phone. For instance, a 2021 study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, showed that people who received brief phone calls from volunteers for a month reported that they felt 20% less lonely on average.

These findings, which indicate a positive effect of building social connections, are in line with the WHO’s recommendations. In November, WHO launched a commission to “promote social connection as a priority and accelerate the scaling up of solutions in countries of all incomes." According to WHO, the commission will explore how social connections can improve the well-being of our communities and societies and help foster economic progress, social development, and innovation.

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