In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers from the University of York, Hull York Medical School, and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, it has been established that structured, telephone-based psychological care offered over an eight-week period is a highly effective way to combat loneliness and depression. The results of the study indicate that levels of depression were significantly reduced, and the benefits were even greater than those seen from using antidepressant medications.
Participants in the study reported a remarkable 21% decrease in emotional loneliness over a three-month period, and these benefits were found to persist even after the phone calls had concluded, suggesting long-lasting positive effects.
Known as the Behavioral Activation in Social Isolation trial (BASIL+ trial), this study was initiated within months of the 2020 pandemic and is the largest trial to have ever targeted and measured loneliness in this manner. The findings of the study, published in The Lancet (Healthy Longevity), represent a substantial advancement in understanding effective strategies for preventing loneliness.
The BASIL+ study included individuals aged over 65 with multiple long-term conditions who had been asked to shield during the COVID-19 pandemic and were at high risk of experiencing loneliness and depression.
Notably, this trial was the only mental health trial prioritized by the NHS as part of its Urgent Public Health program, which played a crucial role in combating COVID-19. Hundreds of older individuals were recruited for the trial from 26 sites across the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–21.
Loneliness has garnered increased attention from politicians and policymakers, who recognize its negative impact on mental health and overall well-being. The World Health Organization recently classified loneliness as a global health concern and launched an international commission to address the issue.
The results of the BASIL+ trial are expected to contribute significantly to this effort, as it is the largest trial ever conducted to combat loneliness. The Jo Cox Commission, established in memory of the late politician, estimates that 9 million people in the UK are affected by loneliness, prompting a cross-governmental strategy to tackle the issue.
The research was jointly led by Professor Simon Gilbody from the University of York and Hull York Medical School, and Professor David Ekers from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Gilbody emphasized the critical importance of addressing loneliness and depression, stating, “We now know that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and depression is a silent killer. All of us working on the BASIL+ trial had older parents and relatives who became socially isolated during lockdown.”
Building on previous research, Professor Ekers shared, “Based on our previous research, we had a good idea what might work. With the support of the NHS and the NIHR, we were able to test this in a large rigorous trial. The results are now available, and this is very exciting. The UK led the world with the vaccine discovery trials. Similarly, in mental health, we have advanced the science of ‘what works’ in the area of loneliness, and we have learned much from the dark days of the pandemic.”
This groundbreaking study highlights the potential of telephone-based psychological care as an effective and accessible intervention for individuals experiencing loneliness and depression. By providing structured support and resources, this approach offers significant benefits and may contribute to efforts to combat the global issue of loneliness.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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