By Sean Ryan - 25 February, 2017
A recent conference held in Waterford city, hosted jointly by the housing agency Respond! and the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork heard that loneliness is one of the biggest killers of Irish people.
‘Responding to Social Isolation through Technology’ heard from a range of experts and practitioners on methods to deal with loneliness, and examined innovative responses to one of the major social issues of the digital age.
Opening the conference, Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation Mr John Halligan TD highlighted that responding effectively to social isolation and loneliness poses challenges for governments, policy makers, service providers, communities, and families. He said that “We need effective responses across a broad range of areas, which will address not alone the quality of life issues, but also financial issues whereby people can be supported in their own homes and in their own communities.”
In his remarks, Respond! Chief Executive Officer Declan Dunne said: “Loneliness is a killer. This is no exaggeration. A 2010 review of over 140 studies found that the influence of social isolation on early mortality is comparable to well-established risk factors such as smoking and has a greater impact than factors such as obesity.”
He added: “We have to ensure our older relatives and friends do not become even more isolated in this new information age and, in fact, learn to use and be comfortable with new technology which will enable them to stay in touch with their families and be involved in the national conversation. We in Respond commit to use the learnings from today’s conference to start the journey to ensure our cohort of older residents have the skills and technology available to them to stay connected to the wider world.”
According to Professor Cathal O’Connell of the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork, “this is an issue faced by many societies and its effects have been captured in a range of quality of life indicators across age, gender, income and ethnicity. While communications technology brings undoubted challenges and barriers, it can also be harnessed to innovate for new modes of interaction and social engagement between people and communities.”
The conference also had contributions from ALONE CEO Sean Moynihan, Professor Mike Wilson of Loughborough University, Long Pham of the Tyndall National Institute, and Jordi Tolra of the Vincles Project, Barcelona.
The Respond! housing association was set up by Patrick Cogan OFM and the Franciscan order in the early 1980s and to date has built almost 6,000 houses. It is the largest not-for-profit housing association in the country.
The association has its headquarters in Waterford, but has regional centres in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin, and has been responsible for various housing developments in Ennis, Wexford and Youghal.