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One Major Side Effect of Talking on the Phone More, Says Study

Feel-good new research shows how a simple phone call can help fight depression and anxiety.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan
woman using mobile phone while sitting a couch at home with laptop computer.

According to one alarming study, one in ten adults reported symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2019. Since then—for reasons that likely require no explanation—that number has grown to four in ten.

If you're feeling the loneliness and isolation as the pandemic continues to drag on—or other symptoms that are associated with depression—a new study published just last month in the journal JAMA Psychiatry offers at least one mental health tactic that may be able to give you a much-needed lift. You could pick up the phone and call someone.

RELATED: One Major Side Effect of Sitting on the Couch Too Much, Says New Study

Conducted by researchers at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, the study analyzed the work of "Sunshine Calls," a month-long program in which 16 "layperson" callers (in other words, not trained psychologists) took a crash course in emphatic conversation skills and then called upwards of 240 largely older clients of the local Meals on Wheels of Central Texas. Roughly half of the people receiving phone calls lived by themselves, and "all reported having at least one reported chronic health condition," said the study.

The call recipients were called every day in the first week, and then as routinely as they liked in the weeks afterward. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the calls were successful at reducing the feelings of depression and anxiety—while boosting feelings of mental health—in the participants over the course of four weeks. Lonely recipients overall reported feeling 16% less lonely. Those who were anxious felt their anxiety drop by 37%, and the number of those feeling "at least mildly depressed at baseline dropped by 25%," said the study.

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"We found that people feel meaningfully better when someone connects with them on their terms, consistently and authentically," lead study author Maninder "Kahlon, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Texas and executive director of Factor Health at the Dell Medical School, explained. "In a time of overwhelming need for mental health services across America, this approach offers rapid improvements in loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Better still, it's scalable because it's delivered by people who are not mental health professionals."

While it's not a huge surprise that having a pleasant phone call can elicit feelings of happiness and make people feel a stronger social connection to the world around you, it's a compelling reminder that one of your best mental-health tools is sitting right in your pocket.

"I just enjoy talking," one 78-year-old call recipient named Earl Bissett, explained to the local Austin news channel KXAN. "We talked about 30 minutes a day for the month. I enjoyed talking to her because she brightened my day."

For more breaking health news you should read, make sure you're aware of The Personality Trait That Skyrockets Your Risk of Early Death.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression and anxiety, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is here to help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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