It’s that time of year again. Our screens bombard us with images of bouquets of red roses, strawberries dipped in chocolate and French perfumes. Overnight, stores and shop fronts are filled with pink and red window displays heralding the arrival of Valentine’s Day: A celebration of love, romance and friendship.
I have to be honest and declare that I have never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. I have always found February 14th to be a bit crass, forced and over commercialized, but clearly I am in a minority as far as my lack of enthusiasm for this day goes. 180 Million Valentine’s day cards are exchanged annually (in the U.S alone), and this day has been celebrated and observed, in various forms, for centuries. Dispersed from its Western and Christian origins, Valentine’s Day celebrations have now spread all over the world as far afield as China, Singapore, South Korea, India and Iran.
The ever expanding popularity of this holiday got me thinking about the relationship between love and one’s mental health. It turns out, there is some scientific basis for understanding what many of us know, intuitively, to be true. Here are 4 concrete reasons why it’s worth spending some time on February 14th to mark the occasion of Valentine’s Day, not only with our loved ones at home, but in our schools and communities too.
#1 Marriage Reduces Symptoms of Depression for Men and Women
It has long been reported that marriage may affect many aspects of mental health, but the most rigorous research comes from the depression literature, which suggests that marriage reduces depressive symptoms for both men and women. Of note, in addition to findings that getting married decreases depressive symptoms, getting divorced increases such feelings, and such depressive symptoms appear to be long-lasting and remain elevated years after the divorce.
A more recent Norwegian survey examining levels of psychological well-being between married, cohabitors and single people, appears to affirm these earlier findings. In this study the researchers found that overall, being partnered-living (married or cohabiting) was associated with higher psychological well-being than being single. Moreover, single living subsequent to a divorce was experienced as particularly negative.
#2 Being Sexually Active Has a Beneficial Impact on One’s Neurochemistry
Oxytocin is a mammalian neurohypophysial hormone (secreted by the posterior pituitary gland) that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain. Plasma oxytocin levels increase during sexual arousal in both women and men and are significantly higher (than baseline) during orgasm/ejaculation.
Elevated levels of oxytocin has long been associated with better mental health, with recent studies suggesting a relationship between elevated oxytocin levels and feelings of interpersonal trust, emotional connection, being more satisfied with life, feeling less anxious and less depressed.
In the United States, at least, Valentine’s Day has progressed beyond romantic love to encompass love of family and, more platonic, love of friends and community. The last two reasons highlight the importance of these types of love in our society.
#3 Patient-Caregiver Relationship May Directly Influence Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
A study led by Johns Hopkins and Utah State University researchers suggested that a close relationship between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers gave those patients a marked edge over those without such a close caregiver relationship. This outcome manifested in the patient retaining mind and brain function over time. This beneficial effect of emotional intimacy, which the researchers observed among participants, was on par with some of the medications typically used to treat the dementia.
#4 Children Who Feel Loved by Family and Caregivers Are Psychologically More Resilient
Young people’s sense of connection to their parents and other family members is the most consistent protective factor across all health outcomes, including the likelihood that they will engage in violent behavior. Furthermore, research shows that simply developing relationships with caring adults protects “at-risk” youth against becoming involved in violence. The school environment, too, exerts considerable influence on the psychological well-being of young people. Students who feel they are a part of their school are also more emotionally healthy and less inclined towards drug and alcohol abuse or suicidal thoughts and attempts.