It was the iconic Marilyn Monroe who said "I restore myself when I'm alone". Despite living until she was just 36 this message has been an echo to me throughout my life. And now, a happy, healthy 76-year-old woman I can share that, until recently, I'd never fully understood the meaning of the phrase.
Our understanding grows all the time about the links between loneliness, mental and physical health. The Marmot Review, conducted under the last Labour government, showed that people who live isolated lives are five times more likely to die early than people with a strong social network. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, loneliness is as dangerous to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than obesity. Medical studies show a clear link between loneliness and dementia, high blood pressure, and suicide.
The ONS' conclusion is foreboding, stating that the problem will only get worse given the UK's ageing population. The term 'chronically lonely' is now regularly being used to describe the condition. What can be done? It is an issue very close to my heart and I believe that we can all play a part in tackling loneliness.
What the UK is experiencing is a loneliness epidemic. It is the sheer number of older people suffering from loneliness and social isolation which blights the UK's position as one of the best places in the world to grow old. This isn't going away or getting any better, and it's not something we can shy away from.
As the nation recalls the dark days of 1940 and honours the brave RAF airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is trying to help veterans who are having dark days today. Too often we hear stories of elderly veterans who have outlived their family and are spending their later years in solitude. But our new research tells a slightly different story.