September 01, 2021

Feeling lonely? Reach for the phone

During the months of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation, you may have found yourself reaching for the phone to connect with loved ones to stave off loneliness or make sure they were feeling connected. A recent study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that was a good instinct.

For the study, which took place in the midst of the pandemic, housebound adults who received Meals on Wheels services were called several times a week for four weeks. The callers were young volunteers who were given a quick training on how to speak and listen with empathy. The calls were meant to take 10 minutes or fewer, and to cover whatever the recipient wanted to discuss. A control group of housebound adults was not called.

At the beginning and end of the study, participants were assessed on measures such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. Those who received the calls experienced improvements in all three areas as compared with those who were not called, and their anxiety was found to be significantly decreased.

Loneliness is a serious issue. Studies have demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental health and poor cardiovascular health, as well as other health problems.

Even as COVID-19 restrictions fade, many people — particularly older and housebound adults — may still feel lonely. Mayo Clinic experts recommend reaching out to loved ones on the phone if you can't be there in person, as the data suggests that phone contact improves psychological well-being. Remember, the phone rings...