Loneliness Taskforce Research Network: A Step Towards Togetherness Dr Joanna McHugh Power, Department of Psychology

Loneliness Taskforce Research Network: A Step Towards Togetherness Dr Joanna McHugh Power, Department of Psychology
Friday, May 3, 2024 - 16:15

Loneliness is a pressing issue in Ireland, particularly since we have the highest rates of loneliness across Europe. Given that loneliness is painful in its own right, as well as being a risk factor for many undesirable health and mental health outcomes, it is critical to understand how best to address it.
The Loneliness Taskforce Research Network was established in 2023 in order to ensure that high-quality research on loneliness is produced in Ireland, to inform policy reform and to reflect the reality of those with lived experience. The network directly informs the work of the Loneliness Taskforce, a coalition of organisations who came together in 2018 to address the issue of loneliness in Ireland.  ALONE (www.alone.ie) offered its full support in creating this network and has proposed to act as a link between the Loneliness Taskforce, the research network, and service providers in the area.
On April 16th 2024, we held the inaugural event of the Loneliness Taskforce Research Network. This event, entitled “A Step Towards Togetherness – Connecting Research to Policy to Action”, brought together researchers, practitioners, experts-by-experience, and other knowledge users in order to reflect on the next steps for Irish loneliness research.
Following welcomes by Seán Moynihan (CEO of ALONE) and Dr Joanna McHugh Power (chair of the Loneliness Taskforce Research Network and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Maynooth University), Professor Brian Lawlor, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, contextualised the work of the day by providing a historical account of loneliness research in Ireland, in which he remains central. Dr Ann-Marie Creaven, and Emma Kirwan from the School of Psychology at the University of Limerick, then described an exemplar of Irish loneliness research in the PhD work undertaken by Emma.  Finally, Dr David McDaid, Associate Professorial Research Fellow in Health Economics and Health Policy at London School of Economics, provided guidelines for the network based on his experiences co-leading the UKRI-funded Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Network.
After a coffee break, attendees broke into special-interest groups for a round-table exercise aimed at eliciting priorities for Irish loneliness research. There was a lively discussion which was very fruitful and we now have a clear sense of these priorities, which include: the need for data on loneliness in young people in Ireland; the need to evaluate existing interventions which ostensibly target loneliness; and the need to understand why Ireland has the highest rates of loneliness across Europe.
We plan to disseminate our priorities to the broader network via our new network website (www.lonelinessresearch.org), and via symposia planned for this year’s Irish Gerontological Society and Psychological Society of Ireland annual meetings. Most importantly, we brought together network members for much-needed discussion and spotlighting of loneliness as a key research priority in Ireland.
Anyone interested in joining the network can do so at our website: www.lonelinessresearch.org. Enquiries can be sent to Robyn.Homeniuk@alone.ie or Joanna.McHughPower@mu.ie. Special thanks to the Department of Psychology at Maynooth University for sponsoring the catering for this event.