Loneliness & social isolation

A scalable behavioural solution to combat loneliness

The Problem: People who are socially isolated are at a heightened risk of depression and loneliness.  This is important since loneliness is a silent killer.  It is associated with increased rates of heart disease, stroke, falls and dementia.  The World Health Organization and the US Surgeon General have declared loneliness to be a ‘global public health concern’. 

The BTx Lab solution: During the COVID pandemic we adapted our behavioural strategies to offer a telephone-delivered intervention to older people with long term conditions who were asked to ‘shield’.  We designed the BASIL trial [Behavioural Activation for Social Isolation ].  We used behavioural techniques to enable older people develop and plan rewarding activities, remain active and to maintain social networks. 

What we found & key publications.  BASIL is the largest ever trial of a behavioural intervention to tackle loneliness. We found significant reductions in emotional loneliness and depression at four months, with improvements in Quality of Life [mental health].  Benefits persisted after the intervention ended and the behavioural intervention was valued by older people and the therapists who delivered it. 

The results of the BASIL trials have been published in PLoS Medicine, BMJ Mental Health and The Lancet.  Read a summary of the research from NIHR.  there is also a podcast where we speak about this work.  Our trials also feed into a 'Living Systematic Review', providing the most up-to date evidence synthesis of psychological approaches to loneliness. 

How this research was funded:  The BASIL study was supported by a £2.6M programme grant from NIHR.  We worked in partnership with experts by experience and Age UK.  During COVID, the BASIL programme was prioritised under the NIHR Urgent Public Health trials programme

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