Being a carer does not come naturally to me. My mum's inability to perform theoretically simple tasks often frustrates me. Every time I find myself getting annoyed, or expressing my irritation, I feel enormously guilty. I know that none of this is her fault, but the bitterness rises in me every time I go home.
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.