Behavioural activation to mitigate the psychological impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on older people in England and Wales (BASIL+): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial

BASIL trials collective, Simon Gilbody, Elizabeth Littlewood, Dean McMillan, Lucy Atha, Della Bailey, Kalpita Baird, Samantha Brady, Lauren Burke, Carolyn A Chew-Graham, Peter Coventry, Suzanne Crosland, Caroline Fairhurst, Andrew Henry, Kelly Hollingsworth, Elizabeth Newbronner, Eloise Ryde, Leanne Shearsmith, Han-I Wang, Judith WebsterRebecca Woodhouse, Andrew Clegg, Sarah Dexter-Smith, Tom Gentry, Catherine Hewitt, Andrew Hill, Karina Lovell, Claire Sloan, Gemma Traviss-Turner, Steven Pratt, David Ekers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Older adults were more likely to be socially isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased risk of depression and loneliness. We aimed to investigate whether a behavioural activation intervention delivered via telephone could mitigate depression and loneliness in at-risk older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

METHODS: BASIL+ (Behavioural Activation in Social Isolation) was a pragmatic randomised controlled trial conducted among patients recruited from general practices in England and Wales, and was designed to assess the effectiveness of behavioural activation in mitigating depression and loneliness among older people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible participants were aged 65 years and older, socially isolated, with a score of 5 or higher on the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), and had multiple long-term conditions. Participants were allocated in a 1:1 ratio to the intervention (behavioural activation) or control groups by use of simple randomisation without stratification. Behavioural activation was delivered by telephone; participants were offered up to eight weekly sessions with trained BASIL+ Support Workers. Behavioural activation was adapted to maintain social connections and encourage socially reinforcing activities. Participants in the control group received usual care with existing COVID-19 wellbeing resources. The primary clinical outcome was self-reported depression severity, assessed by the PHQ-9, at 3 months. Outcomes were assessed masked to allocation and analysis was by treatment allocation. This trial is registered with the ISRCTN registry (ISRCTN63034289).

FINDINGS: Between Feb 8, 2021, and Feb 28, 2022, 449 eligible participants were identified and 435 from 26 general practices were recruited and randomly assigned (1:1) to the behavioural activation intervention (n=218) or to the control group (usual care with signposting; n=217). The mean age of participants was 75·7 years (SD 6·7); 270 (62·1%) of 435 participants were female, and 418 (96·1%) were White. Participants in the intervention group attended an average of 5·2 (SD 2·9) of eight remote behavioural activation sessions. The adjusted mean difference in PHQ-9 scores between the control and intervention groups at 3 months was -1·65 (95% CI -2·54 to -0·75, p=0·0003). No adverse events were reported that were attributable to the behavioural activation intervention.

INTERPRETATION: Behavioural activation is an effective and potentially scalable intervention that can reduce symptoms of depression and emotional loneliness in at-risk groups in the short term. The findings of this trial add to the range of strategies to improve the mental health of older adults with multiple long-term conditions. These results can be helpful to policy makers beyond the pandemic in reducing the global burden of depression and addressing the health impacts of loneliness, particularly in at-risk groups.

FUNDING: UK National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e97-e107
Number of pages11
JournalThe Lancet Healthy Longevity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024 The Author(s).


  • Humans
  • Female
  • Aged
  • Male
  • Ocimum basilicum
  • Wales/epidemiology
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • England/epidemiology

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