The event co-hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) and the Bamford Centre for Mental Health & Wellbeing, Ulster University brought together international academics, researchers, organisations and charities to share and consider the latest research, policy and practice in this area.
The areas covered by the international panel included the different types and determinants of loneliness, pathways in and out loneliness, the connections between loneliness and isolation, the role of volunteering, social programmes as well as the negative impacts on health and wellbeing.
Prof Roger O’Sullivan said: “Loneliness is a complex issue. A lot of people might think that loneliness is only experienced by older people living alone. We need to recognise that there are different types and causes of loneliness. People who have lots of friends can still feel lonely, while those who live alone may not. Likewise loneliness can be experienced by people of all ages. Although there is heightened awareness of the issue of loneliness at Christmas it can also be experienced at different times of the year. Loneliness is best understood as the difference between one’s desired and actual contact. The research shows that sustained loneliness is not a feeling in isolation but can have a profound impact on physical and mental wellbeing”.
Prof Gerry Leavey of Ulster University said that governments and countries across the world are recognising that loneliness is a key public health issue but are uncertain how to address it.
He added: “Closer to home, England recently launched a strategy, while Scotland and Wales are making progress in that area. In the Republic of Ireland, a Taskforce on Loneliness produced a set of recommendations for Government and therefore this event is very timely. It is essential that loneliness is recognised as a key public health issue. When considering and designing the most appropriate interventions, the message from the meeting was clear - understand the type, the causes and groups most at risk.”
Groups at particular risk of loneliness include older people who have a physical or intellectual disability, older people living with dementia or cognitive impairment, individuals who are caring for a family or friend, those from minority ethnic communities and older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.