On November 2, 2022, Belinda Archibong, assistant professor of economics, published new research with the Brookings Institute titled “The value of communication for mental health.” In collaboration with Francis Annan of UC Berkeley, Archibong designed an experiment to test whether addressing the barriers that impede communication in low-income countries could improve well-being and help prevent the economic losses that have been linked to poor mental health.
Conducted in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic, the nationally representative study included an experimental group that received a low-cost communication intervention as well as a control group for comparison. The researchers worked with a telecom provider to deliver mobile phone credits to low-income adults. Compared with the control group, those who received the intervention were better positioned to make unforeseen calls, had less need for SOS airtime borrowing, and required fewer digital loans. The interventions did not affect consumer spending but did significantly reduce mental anguish and the risk of experiencing severe mental distress. These results show that giving people in low-income areas communication credits is a cost-effective strategy for enhancing well-being since the ability to communicate and maintain connections significantly improves mental health. Communication interventions are especially beneficial when provided in installments rather than a large, one-time transfer.