Active Retirement Ireland has announced the launch of a new wellbeing programme to combat loneliness and isolation and support older people to become more aware of and prioritise their mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was made at the organisation’s AGM taking place in Sligo today (Wednesday 24 May), with more than 300 older people from Active Retirement Associations around the country in attendance.

The programme — funded by Mental Health Ireland and delivered by Active Retirement Ireland, the country’s largest membership organisation for older people — aims to help members ‘laugh more, stress less, live better’ and was developed by Ómra Support Agency with older people, for older people.

Active Retirement Ireland CEO Maureen Kavanagh said, “Mental wellbeing is vital for healthy, positive ageing. Mental health challenges are not only experienced by young people or those of working age but older people too. In fact, we know that many of the catalysts for poor mental health — such as financial hardship, the ending of a career, loneliness, loss of a loved one, and reduced physical wellbeing — also form the lived experience of many older people and often in combination.

“More and more older people are reporting issues relating to mental health and we have CSO data that shows that one in 10 suicides in Ireland from 2015–2019 were by people aged 65 and over. In addition, a great many older people in Ireland are still feeling the deep impacts of a pandemic response which saw their independence and autonomy taken from them and which left them living in fear and isolation for more than two years.

“The Active Retirement Wellness Programme is a grassroots programme that seeks to provide a facilitated, safe space for older people to have conversations about mental health and their experiences but also importantly to be heard, while supporting others to do the same. The programme is focused on connection, feelings of purpose and meaning, lightening a load and on friendship as well, through exercises, activities and discussions.

“Active Retirement Ireland’s mission is to support older people to enjoy strong social connection and healthy, positive ageing and we have done that now for 45 years. We are delighted to have received funding from Mental Health Ireland to enable us to develop and implement the Active Retirement Wellness Programme and extend this important support to our members, but this is a long game, and the programme will require long-term funding and support to be able to ensure all older people are supported to thrive in later life.”

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