Many Americans experience depression or anxiety, but a new Texas study shows a regular phone call to those suffering can reduce symptoms. Known as “Sunshine Calls”, the study recruited 240 mostly homebound, older adults suffering from depressive symptoms.

Mini Kahlon, Ph.D., study author and associate professor of population health, Dell Med, University of Texas at Austin, said the phone calls were made by people who were not health-care professionals but had been briefly trained in how to listen and ask questions. She believes the study adds to a growing area of research focused on alternate models for delivering mental-health support.

“The calls never preach, right? They are always about the topics that are of interest to the participant. Now, will it help everyone? Probably not. But will it help a whole bunch of people? Potentially, yes,” she said.

sunshine calls

The study used a standardized measurement scale and noted that depressive symptoms of those who participated dropped from an average of 13 down to nine. A score of 10 and above signifies symptoms of clinical depression, Kahlon said, and added the study started with participants receiving five calls a week to establish a relationship with the caller.

“And then at the end of the week, we asked them, ‘Well, do you want a call a day, or do you want fewer calls?’ And so, about 50% stuck with a call a day and 50% shifted down to two or three calls a week,” she continued.

Many people lead increasingly isolated lives at the same time there is a shortage of mental-health professionals, and what’s available is often too expensive for those on a fixed income, Kahlon said, and added “Sunshine Calls” are a low-cost, minimally invasive solution.

“There’s no other agenda other than to really hear from them about what’s important to them on their terms which is why, by the way, they continue to pick up the phone – which is quite a rare thing these days,” she explained.

The Sunshine Calls program was developed by Factor Health, an initiative of Dell Med and the Episcopal Health Foundation, in collaboration with Meals on Wheels Central Texas.


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