As Valentine’s Day approaches, the topic of love will be on the minds of men and women across Canada. Some will be frantically arranging last minute gifts while others will be anticipating long-awaited romantic dinners. Singles may spend the day musing alone on the ‘what ifs?’ and the ‘what next?’ in matters of love. For some it is the best day of the year; a day of celebration and festivity. For others, it is a day of sometimes sombre reflection and rumination.

As a team of psychiatric researchers, we are currently exploring the nature and impact of love from a mental health perspective. This is based on two strands of social science research. One strand has examined the impact of positive factors such as social support and social connection. This research indicates that people who report dense and meaningful social connections generally have better mental health and well-being, especially if this involves a connection to a ‘significant other’. 

Another strand has examined the impact of social isolation and loneliness. As expected, this research indicates that these factors increase risk for numerous negative mental health outcomes, including suicide and depression.

This is concerning given that other research indicates that we maybe experiencing an ‘epidemic of loneliness’ in Canada. For example divorce rates are increasing to over 40%, while rates of lone parent families now exceed 20%. The numbers of people living alone has dramatically increased in recent years, affecting young and old alike.

Social media and technology has been implicated in the rise of loneliness, as more and more people spend more and more time on-line and less and less time in real face-to-face contact. There has also been a decline in membership of organizations that have traditionally provided social support, including churches and trade unions.

All these social phenomena concern us. As such, we recently created a new initiative entitled ‘project love’. This is an effort to better understand the nature and impact of love (and the absence of love) on mental health and well-being. We will be writing short pieces about love and we invite your commentary on the issues discussed. We are also creating short videos on the topic, which will be uploaded to the website. It is our hope that this will project will provide a source of hope and reflection for all on that most vital but perplexing human experience- love.