Increasing Social Connection Through Crisis Caring Contacts: A Pragmatic Trial

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VA Office of Research and Development






Behavioral: Control post cards
Behavioral: Crisis Caring Contacts post cards

Study type


Funder types

Other U.S. Federal agency


1I01HX003428-01 (U.S. NIH Grant/Contract)
SDR 21-087

Details and patient eligibility


The main purpose is to learn if sending messages from the VA (called "Caring Contacts") reduces loneliness and improves mental health. The investigators want to understand if these messages are effective in Veterans aged 60 and above who have missed appointments at the VA even though they have health problems. Participants will receive up to 10 postcards mailed in envelopes from a fellow Veteran (Peer Specialist) from their local VA, and will be asked to fill out four surveys. The investigators are recruiting 920 Veterans aged 50 years and older who have felt isolated and have missed appointments at the VA to join this study.

Full description

Lack of social connection is a common and powerful predictor of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, functional decline, and death, even after adjustment for sociodemographic and clinical variables. Loneliness, specifically, is associated with a 26% increased likelihood of all-cause mortality. The urgency of addressing these problems is only amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which for some time may further increase loneliness, suicide, and other causes of mortality. Due to their risk for loneliness and negative health outcomes, a group of particular concern is older adults and patients with medical or psychiatric comorbidity who have poor treatment engagement. Caring Contacts is an intervention that can address loneliness and treatment disengagement. It involves periodically sending brief messages to at-risk individuals with nondemanding expressions of care and concern. It is one of just two non-pharmacologic interventions to have evidence in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for reducing rates of suicide. However, Caring Contacts has only been evaluated in a relatively narrowly indicated population of patients with acute psychiatric issues. Major gaps in the understanding of Caring Contacts include whether it reduces loneliness, whether it can diminish causes of mortality besides suicide, and whether it is effective older Veterans and patients with treatment disengagement. The overarching objective of this project is to evaluate "Crisis Caring Contacts" (CCC), an adaptation of Caring Contacts tailored to Veterans at risk for lack of social connection and lapses in treatment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Primary aims for this study are: 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, suicide attempts, and drug overdoses. Impact: This project 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.


920 estimated patients




50+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • age 50 years and above
  • have at least four VA appointments in the prior 6-18 months in primary care or mental health
  • have at least two comorbidities contained in the Elixhauser Index
  • a) zero completed appointments in the past 6 months and zero appointments scheduled, or b) in the 90th percentile or higher in terms of no-shows or appointments canceled by patient in the prior 12 months

Exclusion criteria

  • no valid mailing address
  • no valid phone number
  • inclusion in an existing Caring Contacts program
  • diagnosis of neurocognitive disorder or other significant cognitive impairment indicative of inadequate decision-making capacity

Trial design

920 participants in 2 patient groups

Experimental group
Participants in the treatment arm will receive the intervention post cards
Behavioral: Crisis Caring Contacts post cards
Sham Comparator group
Participants in the control arm will receive the control post cards
Behavioral: Control post cards

Trial contacts and locations



Central trial contact

Aaron A Call; Alan R Teo, MD MS

Data sourced from

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