Delegates from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors were among those who attended the launch of the initiative in Larne Market Yard, which heard their collective focus includes raising awareness of loneliness, sharing best practice and learning on ways to prevent and address the issue, and encouraging championing of tackling loneliness in the locality.
The Mayor, Cllr Maureen Morrow, delivered the opening address to the Ending Loneliness Conference, which was organised by MEA Council in conjunction with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.
The event heard from Dr Brian Hunter of Cullybackey Health Centre, council officer Alison Diver, who spoke about the Growing Communities project, Mary McCarthy of Glenravel Older and Wiser Women Group, Peter Melarkey from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and Adam Hamilton of Carrickfergus YMCA.
The Mayor said: “Loneliness has become a universal social and public health issue impacting on people at various ages and stages of life. Research suggests isolation and loneliness are as harmful to our health as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“Loneliness can affect anyone from teenagers and young adults, new parents, carers and recently bereaved, students at university, older people, people of all ages moving to a new area for a new job or house, older people and those with disabilities.
“Therefore it is a very positive development that we are now seeing the work of the various agencies who are committed to tackling loneliness across our borough. I am confident that the Mid and East Antrim Loneliness Network will be a significant step forward in this and look forward to hearing how the network progresses.”
The onset of loneliness can often happen at a time of transition, for instance unemployment, chronic illness, bereavement (loss of a partner or peers) and retirement.
Young mums and those with diminished social networks can also experience loneliness as well as carers. The loss of a spouse or partner is said to be one of the biggest predictors of loneliness in older people.
Sabrina Lynn, from the Northern Trust, said: “The launch of the Mid and East Loneliness Network is an important development in our aim of preventing and addressing loneliness. As part of Community Planning arrangements the Network will work together to increase social opportunities for people living in the Borough with the purpose of promoting their health and wellbeing.”