Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Feeling loved and feeling love for others has a positive effect on mental health and those who feel loved and love others experience fewer depressive symptoms than those who do not. But love can show up and shape our lives in a great many different ways that are not romantic.

Although many people might focus on celebrating romantic love on 14th February each year, perhaps there’s an importance on broadening the definition of love to make Valentine’s day more inclusive. While relationships affect mental health and mental health affects relationships, evidence suggests relationships affect mental health far more than vice versa. And while relationships are clearly important to mental well-being they do not have to be romantic.


9 Types of Love

While there are many thoughts on how many different types of love there might be, the Ancient Greeks had 9 different ways to describe love in its various forms:

Eros: romantic, passionate love

Philia: intimate, authentic friendship or platonic love

Philautia: compassionate self-love

Ludus: playful, flirtatious love

Storge: devoted love often associated with family

Pragma: mature, dutiful, reasonable love based upon shared goals

Agape: unconditional, universal love

Mania: obsessive love

Meraki: love of creating

So, let’s take a look at each of these loves and how they relate to mental health.


Eros: Romantic and passionate love

The most common form of love when thinking about the heart-shaped chocolate boxes, red roses and images of Cupid that adorn shop windows every February is ‘eros’, meaning romantic and passionate love.

For many of us, young love can play a key role in development and may be a source of both well-being and mental challenges. There is a call, therefore, for more education to be provided for children and young people to help better prepare them for the challenges romance might hold.

Romance can also lead to sexual encounters, which are closely linked to mental well-being in a different way. The benefits of a healthy sex life are clear. People who were sexually active during lockdowns in the Covid-19 pandemic experienced less anxiety and depression whereas lack of sexual activity was linked to higher risk of depression and anxiety.

But what about casual romance and passion? People who enjoy casual sexual encounters tend to rate them as positive emotional experiences. However, these encounters are also linked to worsening mood over time.

So, science suggests learning how to make empowered decisions around sexual choices could be a positive step for the mental health of people looking for romantic, passionate love.

It’s important to note that romantic love is not gender-specific. Those in the LGBTQAI+ community may be reluctant to seek help if they’re struggling with mental health challenges for fear of discrimination or stigma.

For everyone, no matter their sexuality, to get the help they need from services without discrimination, change is needed, according to research sensitivity  and respect is vital.


Philia: friendship or platonic love

The benefits of platonic love or friendship are wide-reaching and deserve to be celebrated just as much as romance.

Friendships are a hugely important source of happiness, well-being and health no matter our age. Whether in school, work, community or even in counselling, friendships affect our well-being. In our younger years, friendships are crucial in adolescent development, as Mina Fazel and colleagues discovered. Mina presented at MQ’s Science Festival in 2021. For young people, friendships can promote mental health awareness and confidence to seek help as well as prevent isolation which is known to be damaging to mental health.

The types of friends we have can impact our mental health directly too. How much fun we have with our friends, how much we admire them and how reliable and helpful they are have different effects on our well-being. So, with more and more people celebrating Galentine’s Day on 13th of February and Palentine’s too, science seems to suggest it’s important to celebrate our friendships.


Philautia: compassionate self-love

Loving ourselves and caring for ourselves can be a struggle for those of us who live with mental health conditions, yet can hold great benefits. Compassion training within organisations not only increases self-compassion or self-love but it is also likely to decrease stress and mental ill-health.

The importance of self-compassion is spreading now even to mental health professionals. They themselves have one of the most stressful jobs, according to evidence, and the benefits of self-compassion for therapists is now a hot topic for the field.

However, self-love is a controversial construct nowadays.  Perceptions on self-love have been divided into either “good” self-love that encourages well-being or “bad” self-love linked to narcissism and selfishness. One only needs to go onto social media to see these polarised views thrown about with passion.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is itself a mental health condition and not the same as loving yourself. Self-love, on the other hand, has three components:

giving attention to yourself

accepting yourself

caring for and protecting yourself

Self-love therefore is clearly connected to psychological health and well-being.

Young people see self-love in a positive light associating it with resilience, protection from negativity which therefore leads to prevention of depression or anxiety. And yet, cultural norms can hinder the development of self-love, meaning that if those around us view self-love as selfish young people are less likely to practice this demonstrably positive practice.


Ludus: Flirting, playful love

Flirtatious or playful love is scientifically hard to define. It’s an ambiguous social interaction and can be interpreted or misinterpreted in many different ways.

What can be measured is the types of people who tend to enjoy flirtatious behaviour. These people tend to be extroverted and outgoing but their reasons to flirt can be varied. They may flirt to simply have fun, explore the people around them, build relationships, enjoy sexual encounters or simply to get something.

Playfulness, on the other hand, can prove a fantastic tool for combatting mental ill-health. Playful responses to the pandemic were beneficial in helping people stay connected. People who are more playful in their approach to life are more likely to be physically and mentally healthier as well as more active. While it may be dismissed by some, there’s a lot to celebrate in playful, flirtatious love.


Storge: devoted or family love

Stronger family relationships are closely associated with good health. This is partly down to the emotional, practical and informational support families might provide. Support from families can reduce stress, particularly when it comes to finances but not exclusively in this area.

From how we were raised to how we relate to those we are biologically or societally related to has huge consequences for our mental well-being throughout our life. Family support is particularly helpful in protecting the mental well-being of children and young people. A safe, secure and supportive home environment is one major factor in a child’s development.

However, next of kin doesn’t automatically equate to supportive kinship. Not all of us have strong relationships with siblings, parents or extended family. Diverse family structures and even the unexpected benefits of relationship strain are all areas ripe for further research. Coping with difficult family relationships is a challenge for mental health which is why MQ created this helpful article on the subject.


Pragma: mature, dutiful, reasonable love


There are four main aspects to long-term partnership: choice of partner, romance, sexual connection and pair-bonding. If romance and sexual connection are closely related to ‘Eros’, ‘Pragma’ could be seen as most closely linked to ‘pair-bonding’.

Although the idea of this ‘mature, dutiful’ love need not be exclusively related to marriage, can commitment of this kind promote maturity of love?

Marriage nowadays is not a requirement to gain social acceptance. In fact, in the USA, more people are unmarried than ever before. This might be because people are living together more often and getting married later in life. However, most people still would like to get married and, according to research, over 90% of people do marry at some point in their lifetime.

However, evidence suggests that more established, committed relationships, like marriage, do promote better health and happiness than less committed partnerships such as cohabitation. And there are benefits to marriage for both old and young. For older people, compassionate love reduces loneliness and improves psychological wellbeing, while for younger people, marriage tends to make them happier than those who are unmarried. According to research, those married between the ages of 22 and 26 are more satisfied with their lives, and also tend to drink less alcohol.

For anyone concerned with marriage killing all hope of long-term love and romance, evidence suggests marital satisfaction does not decline over time but in fact remains relatively stable. However, as a word of warning, if problems are there at the start, such as poor communication, they are unlikely to change and even if things do change it doesn’t necessarily lead to a happier relationship.


Agape: universal, unconditional love


Universal love might be considered when thinking of love of nature, the world, strangers or for a higher power. Unconditional love might be considered as similar to maternal love but is slightly different when looking at areas of the brain that are connected to these similar but subtly different loves. This type of love might seem illusive but there is a distinct network in the brain that works when love is unconditional and appears to be separate to other networks in the brain related to other emotions.

This same network is also shared with the brain’s reward system, suggesting when we feel unconditional love, we feel rewarded. This, along with other more selfless reasons, could be a great motivation to nurture feelings of unconditional love.

So how do we nurture love? In science, the Quadruple Theory aims to make love easier to understand and therefore easier to nurture, cultivate, regulate and preserve.

This theory states two important points about love: 1) love is universal and applies to people of all cultures, races ethnicities, religion and sexual orientations and 2) culture has a huge effect on how people behave towards each other.


Mania: obsessive love


Linguistically speaking, ‘mania’ is a complicated word when it comes to mental health. Mania is associated with some mental illnesses. The roots of the word are from the Greek and Latin ‘mania’ meaning “insanity, madness, frenzy” or “enthusiasm, inspired, passion, fury”. In the mental health world, clinically, mania is defined as hyperactivity, increased speech and disordered thought accompanied by either elevated or depressive mood associated with bipolar disorder. This as a mental health diagnosis is important to separate from the idea of ‘obsession’ or ‘love’.

Looking into the idea of ‘obsessive love’, there is a link with mental health conditions. Romantic love can in fact shape an experience of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), especially regarding sensory phenomena/sensitivity to sensations and depending on the age at which OCD begins.

Also, people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can sometimes form an intense attachment towards what is know as their ‘Favourite Person’. This relationship can become mutually destructive as feelings go beyond their control.

It’s crucial to point out the importance of avoiding stigma or misunderstanding of these complex and distressing mental health experiences. Compassion and further research is needed to better understand how to help those that have these illnesses and those that love them.


Meraki: love of creating


Doing something you love or the love of creating is a very special kind of active, life-affirming and empowering love. Creativity can help with mental health, that is why we created this article explaining how the art of creating something from nothing, be it painting, baking, gardening, singing, playing music, writing or so much more can promote better mental health.

Creativity can also bring about a feeling of warmth, happiness and humour. Laughter is in fact also good for mental health whether you’re the one joking or the one enjoying a chuckle. There..

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