A MAJOR campaign to tackle loneliness and social isolation is being launched today by NHS Highland and The Inverness Courier.
It comes 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.
The Reach Out campaign invites individuals, companies and organisations to make a pledge to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness.
It could be something as simple as chatting to an elderly neighbour twice a week, or signing up to be a volunteer with an existing organisation, to helping to form a befrienders' group or getting together a team to organise a social event.
Joanna Macdonald, NHS Highland's director of adult social care, said something as simple as saying "hello" can make a huge difference to people.
"This campaign is not just about the NHS doing something," she said. "It is about us all doing something and taking personal responsibility in our lives and working to raise the profile of loneliness."
The campaign, which already has the backing of politicians, individuals and organisations, will be launched at Drakies Primary School where pupils have set up a community café and run themselves.
They will lead a Question Time-style discussion with experts from NHS Highland and urge people to take up the challenge.
David Alston, NHS Highland chairman, said The Inverness Courier deserved credit for recognising the importance of the Reach Out campaign and the impact it could make.
"NHS Highland is looking forward to working with the Courier in encouraging individuals and organisations to do their bit to tackle loneliness," he said.
* What is loneliness and what are its impacts? How can we make a difference to those who feel lonely? Buy today's Inverness Courier to read more.
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 email@example.com 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.