I wasn’t surprised to learn how pervasive loneliness was, but I was surprised to learn how bad loneliness is for one’s health. According to recent studies, and results broadcast by the BBC, loneliness can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I reserve a little scepticism in this regard, but there can be no doubt that prolonged loneliness can be as bad for the body as for the soul. At this time of the year, loneliness is acutely experienced.

When we think of the lonely, we imagine elderly people living in proximity to others at all times, but isolated from everyone none the less. This stereotypical image is very true, but loneliness extends to the mentally or physically handicapped, those with very demanding careers, even those who for many reasons feel they “don’t belong”. This sense of acute isolation can lead to depression or worse.

The remedy is always near to hand. A friendly word, a kind gesture, a little bit of time. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed in the short term. We are gregarious creatures and whether we admit it or not, we thrive on companionship and a feeling of inclusiveness. A little attention, willingly provide, can make all the difference, but in the absence of these things, loneliness can set in.