The Health Minister Robin Swann and Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín have welcomed the BBC’s Christmas Appeal and its focus this year on tackling loneliness.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many people, particularly the elderly, those who were shielding earlier in the year and people living alone.
Mr Swann said: “This has been an exceptionally tough year for everyone. Coronavirus has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives and many people will have suffered the loss of a loved one, as well as increased anxiety and feelings of isolation.
“Even before Covid-19, many people in Northern Ireland were experiencing loneliness and the restrictions, while necessary, have exacerbated this problem, particularly for older people, who are more likely to live alone, and less likely to be Internet users.
“It’s important that all of us take the opportunity to connect with people who are struggling and let them know that they’re not alone and support is available. I’m very pleased that the BBC’s Christmas Appeal has chosen the theme of loneliness this year and I have no doubt that it will help to reach many people who feel so alone this festive season.”
Loneliness is a growing problem in our society and tackling it effectively will require a collaborative approach involving a number of Departments, and agencies as well as the voluntary and community sector. It is recognised that work to address unmet needs caused by the COVID 19 pandemic must be a priority for all sectors and that during the pandemic there is a recognition that those who experience loneliness and social isolation may be more vulnerable.
Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: “For many people living alone, especially those who are elderly and perhaps dependent on care, social isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on their mental health and emotional well-being. My Department continues to work with local government agencies, the voluntary and community sector, sporting and faith based organisations and others to deliver on initiatives to ensure these people do not feel that they have been forgotten during the pandemic.
“I want to pay tribute to the many organisations and individual volunteers who have been working tirelessly, day and night to support the most vulnerable in our communities. This goes to the heart of who we are – especially in times of need.”
The Department of Health has been carrying out a scoping exercise to identify and co-ordinate what resources are currently in place both in the Department and across the wider landscape of Health and Social Care. It is anticipated that the first phase of this exercise will be completed shortly and the findings will inform the development of new policies to address the problem of loneliness.