SDLP MLA Sinéad Bradley is taking a lead role in collating the groundwork required to prepare Northern Ireland for tackling loneliness. Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales are all pushing ahead with plans to confront this uncomfortable topic that until now was largely taboo.
The SDLP representative who hails from the mainly rural constituency of South Down highlighted the fact that loneliness can strike anyone at any stage or age in life.
In identifying a way forward Ms Bradley said:
“My preference at this time would be to set up an APG on loneliness but due to political dysfunction I am unable to do so. Therefore, I'm hoping through work with key stakeholders and relevant existing committees to begin building some traction on this important issue.”
The SDLP representative added:
“It is recognised that loneliness is highly prevalent amongst older citizens and people living with disabilities, but we must recognise it reaches far beyond these groups. Loneliness can affect many people such as first-time mums, immigrants, carers, people starting new jobs or university, and those bereaved, to name just some.
"Society needs to understand better the extreme effects loneliness can have on a person. We need to recognise the many triggers that may result in a person experiencing a time in their life that leaves them feeling deeply sad, lacking friends, or unable to connect with others around them.
"Some studies suggest the gripping cruelty of loneliness can be so destructive that it directly impacts not just our mental health but also our physical wellbeing. Medical reports even suggest a direct link from loneliness to dementia, depression and accidents, disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, higher levels of stress hormones, and inflammation.
"It is therefore critical that we face up to this reality and remove the loneliness taboo from our society. We must use existing networks and develop new ones to build and create opportunities for meaningful engagement with others.
“Despite the political stalemate, the SDLP recognise there is much groundwork to be done and we are committed to continuing our efforts to tackle the blight of loneliness. My colleague Justin McNulty MLA, a member of the Loneliness Taskforce played a key role in the development of the insightful report “A Connected Island” which offers clear recommendations aiming to deliver “An Ireland Free From Loneliness”.
Meanwhile, Age NI who offer a support helpline on 0808 808 7575 for older people have partnered with #CampaignToEndLoneliness to develop critical solutions.
“For now, we are all challenged to find ways of reaching beyond the political abyss to ensure people experiencing loneliness become empowered to recognise it, speak of it and embrace strategies to defeat it.
"Despite the political impasse, I am launching a key engagement meeting in Parliament Buildings with a view to officially opening up the conversation of tackling loneliness here.”