The value of communication for mental health
Mental health disorders account for a large share of the overall global disease burden and translate into staggeringly large economic losses, particularly in low-income countries, where people face several unexpected shocks. We are testing whether improving communication can alleviate these mental health disorders. In partnership with a major telecom operator, we are implementing low-cost telecom interventions that provide mobile call credits to a nationally representative group of low-income adults in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic. The individuals’ ability to make unexpected calls, the need to borrow SOS time, and to request digital loans were significantly reduced compared to the control group. As a result, the programs significantly reduced mental disorders (-9.8 percent) and the likelihood of severe psychological distress by -2.3 percentage points (one-fourth of the median prevalence), with a null effect on consumer spending. The effects are stronger for monthly mobile credits than for a lump sum. A simple cost-benefit analysis shows that providing communication credit to low-income adults is a cost-effective policy for improving mental health. Communication – the ability to stay in touch – purposefully improves mental well-being, and communication-related interventions are especially valuable when implemented as many premiums.
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