Background: This is a time of unprecedented loneliness and social isolation. Loneliness in particular is a powerful predictor of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, functional decline, and death. Loneliness can and should be addressed by health systems. Due to risk for loneliness and negative health outcomes, a group of particular concern is older adults with medical or psychiatric comorbidity who have limited treatment engagement. Caring Contacts is an intervention that can address loneliness and poor treatment engagement. However, it has only been evaluated in a narrow population of psychiatric patients and not examined amongst patients impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or other disasters. Significance: This project addresses VA’s top clinical priority (suicide prevention), an overarching priority of the Office of Research and Development (clinical trials), and multiple Health Service Research and Development priority areas, including social determinants of health, aging, access to care, mental health, suicide prevention, and population/whole health. The impact of this project is very high because it will advance scientific understanding of key gaps related to the mechanisms and outcomes of Caring Contacts, while also evaluating a timely, pragmatic, low-cost, and scalable intervention for Veterans affected by lack of social connection and treatment engagement. If effective, it will have applicability as a response to treatment disengagement and future disasters. Innovation and Impact: We have taken an empirically-grounded suicide prevention intervention and adapted it for Veterans with poor treatment engagement in VA outpatient care. This study is innovative in testing an intervention responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, and unique in using a health services intervention strategy to target loneliness. The intervention’s peer support component is highly novel for its low resource demands and potential for scalability. Specific Aims: The overarching objective of this project is to evaluate “Crisis Caring Contacts” (CCC), an adaptation of Caring Contacts tailored to reduce loneliness in the context of the pandemic. To reach this objective we will achieve these aims: 1) Among older Veterans with poor treatment engagement, evaluate the effectiveness of Crisis Caring Contacts in decreasing loneliness, compared to enhanced usual care; 2) Evaluate the effect of Crisis Caring Contacts on other important outcomes, including treatment engagement and suicidal ideation; 3) Explore potential moderators of treatment response to Crisis Caring Contacts; and 4) Explore the effect of Crisis Caring Contacts on all-cause mortality and suicide attempts. Methodology: Our approach is to conduct a multisite, pragmatic randomized controlled trial of CCC. We will target Veterans age 60 and over with active psychiatric or medical diagnoses who have had limited treatment engagement in VA outpatient care. Those in the CCC treatment arm will be sent 10 postcards over 10 months by a Peer Support Specialist. Those in the enhanced usual care arm (control) will be sent non-personalized, general health resource information. We will examine self-report and administrative data outcomes over 24 months of follow-up. Next Steps/Implementation: We will collect pre-implementation data from our study sites and share this with our operational partner, the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP). Crisis Caring Contacts is highly suited to future implementation due to its scalability, ease of creating an operational dashboard to identify Veterans who could receive the intervention, and ability to add study materials to an implementation toolkit for VA Caring Contacts interventions.
External Links for this Project
Grant Number: I01HX003428-01A1
- Das A, Padala KP, Crawford CG, Teo A, Mendez DM, Phillips OA, Wright BC, House S, Padala PR. A systematic review of loneliness and social isolation scales used in epidemics and pandemics. Psychiatry Research. 2021 Dec 1; 306:114217. [view]
- Hynes DM, Niederhausen M, Chen JI, Shahoumian TA, Rowneki M, Hickok A, Shepherd-Banigan M, Hawkins EJ, Naylor J, Teo A, Govier DJ, Berry K, McCready H, Osborne TF, Wong E, Hebert PL, Smith VA, Bowling CB, Boyko EJ, Ioannou GN, Iwashyna TJ, Maciejewski ML, O'Hare AM, Viglianti EM, Bohnert AS. Risk of Suicide-Related Outcomes After SARS-COV-2 Infection: Results from a Nationwide Observational Matched Cohort of US Veterans. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Oct 26. [view]
Mental, Cognitive and Behavioral Disorders, Aging, Older Veterans' Health and Care
TRL - Applied/Translational
Quality of Life, Suicide
None at this time.