A program out of Meals on Wheels Central Texas has successfully moved the needle on social isolation and the mental and behavioral health consequences that particular social determinants of health can have, data reported in JAMA Psychiatry showed. The study, conducted by researchers from the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas Austin, showed that laypeople can address loneliness as a social determinant of health through targeted, empathetic phone calls to high-risk individuals.
Social isolation has long been a pressing social determinant of health, naturally impacting mental and behavioral health and also showing signs of affecting physical health, too, the researchers said.
“Loneliness has been indicated as a risk factor for overall mortality and conditions from stroke to heart disease,” the team wrote. “It is associated with depression and anxiety, even if the direction and degree of causality is unclear.” And at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that connection became clearer. The virus outbreak pushed Americans across the country, but especially those with chronic illness or other risk factors, to shelter in place and avoid social gatherings. This likely stressed social isolation, the team said.
The 16-person call team ranged in age from 17 to 23 and were trained specifically in empathetic calling/conversation techniques. The researchers defined empathy as “prioritizing listening and eliciting conversation from the participant on the topics of their choice.”
Overall, the intervention proved successful, the team said.
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