THE Reach Out campaign to tackle loneliness has been praised by a leading Highland politician as being "outstanding".
John Finnie, Highlands and Islands Green MSP, gave a ringing endorsement to the initiative launched last month by NHS Highland and supported by The Inverness Courier to raise awareness of social isolation and tackle it by inviting everyone from individuals to organisations to make a difference.
In the last Scottish Parliament, Mr Finnie served as a member of the influential equal opportunities committee which is understood to have been the first parliamentary institution anywhere in the world to specifically consider isolation and loneliness.
It subsequently published a 44-page report, Age and Social Isolation, which concluded loneliness was everyone's problem.
Mr Finnie explained the committee visited Easterhouse in Glasgow and Islay to examine the issues in very different areas and found that the challenges were the same, with a stigma often associated with feelings of loneliness or isolation.
"We heard from Age Scotland that the need for contact is an innate human need in the same way that feeling hungry or thirsty or tired or in pain is, and our findings proved just that," he said.
"I think the Reach Out campaign is an outstanding piece of work by NHS Highland. Our committee recommended that the Scottish Government ensures that the issues of social isolation and loneliness are built into the plans and strategies of health and social care partnerships across Scotland, and I'm delighted that Inverness is showing the way on this important issue."
Since the launch of the Reach Out campaign, Mr Finnie has also visited Drakies Primary School in Inverness where pupils have set up a community café, bringing together people of different ages. The idea of the café came from the pupils themselves and is run by them.
"It was great to see real, first hand, inter-generational action being undertaken to support this worthwhile project," Mr Finnie said.
He is the latest politician to give his support for the campaign. Shona Robison, Scotland's secretary for health, wellbeing and sport, pledged to do what she could to tackle loneliness in her community while Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, raised the issue in Westminster during a debate about transport.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has also given her backing.
The Reach Out campaign was launched in the wake of new research which reveals that loneliness can be as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of premature death by 10 per cent.
It invites individuals, companies and organisations to make a pledge to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness.
Joanna Macdonald, NHS Highland's director of adult social care, said something as simple as saying "hello" could make a huge difference to a person's life.
If you want to help tackle loneliness, please let us know what you plan to do. Whether it's inviting a neighbour over for a cup of tea or volunteering at a local community group, we'd love to hear about it! Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, where you live and details of your pledge and we'll publish a selection on our website. You can also download and fill in the coupon below (click link) and return to us at the stated address.