Social isolation is as harmful to people as well-established risk factors for mortality, like smoking and obesity.

We are a social species and we rely on others to help us in all aspects of our lives. This includes our identities, sense of purpose, recognition and many of the subtler aspects of our development, as well as the obvious material elements. As our increasingly individualistic lifestyle in the West reduces our dependence on others it can also deprive us of the reciprocal demands and benefits of our relationships

In the UK, according to a 2010 survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of people often feel lonely, a third have a close friend or relative who they think is very lonely, and half think that people are getting lonelier in general. Similarly, across the Atlantic, over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants.

Taking care of our relationships may well be the most neglected aspect of our collective lives, whether at work, in the home, or in the community. Yet it is also the easiest to do something about, if we can only be bothered.