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Mild Intellectual Disability and Loneliness: 'We Need to Handle the Discomfort Better'

Individuals with a mild intellectual disability often experience loneliness more frequently than others. In a new NWA project, social history lecturer Paul van Trigt is collaborating with and for them to find a suitable approach.

‘We have been observing for a while in the statistics that individuals with a mild intellectual disability are more prone to loneliness than others,’ says Van Trigt. ‘There are various explanations for this: their disability may make it challenging for them to deal with certain matters, their place in society isolates them, and they are viewed differently, but actually, we still don't fully understand the exact connection between loneliness and a mild intellectual disability.’

Understanding its origins

This was also evident in the National Science Agenda (NWA), where a recent call was made for scientific research to address loneliness in groups that disproportionately struggle with it. ‘In our case, this doesn't mean we see loneliness as a problem that we can simply solve,’ Van Trigt clarifies. ‘We mainly want to understand where it comes from and how it can be better addressed. We hear from experiential experts that they want to share their stories, for example, because they expect fewer  appointments during the holidays. However, professionals sometimes gloss over it too quickly because they find it challenging to delve into this theme. This raises very interesting questions. When did we start seeing loneliness as a problem, for example? Did we consider it a problem in the past, or is it a recent development?’

Learning community

A newly recruited PhD candidate will delve into this historical perspective, while a socially oriented PhD candidate will focus more on contemporary practices and participate in healthcare institutions. Windesheim University of Applied Sciences will research on- and offline communities, Nivel will conduct a survey, and then knowledge institutes Movisie and Vilans will translate the results into knowledge for professionals.

‘We are going to function as a learning community,’ Van Trigt explains. ‘This means that we will regularly gather, in smaller or larger groups, to prepare for research and discuss the research results. Importantly, we will involve the experts by experience and their formal and informal networks from the very beginning. This means that we reserve a lot of time for accessible communication from the outset. It's an investment, but I hope this approach ultimately provides us with more insight into the history and the approach to loneliness. It would be great if we could develop resources or interventions that are truly useful in reducing loneliness or at least handling it effectively.’

The COLLELO project is part of the Loneliness call of the National Science Agenda (NWA). The NWA supports projects that contribute to scientific and societal impact.

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