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What Queen Elizabeth's 73-Year Marriage Has to Do With Mental Health

The passing of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II has garnered attention from citizens around the world. Duty. Grace. Unity. All are apt characterizations of the UK's longest-serving monarch. But the Queen's enduring legacy extends beyond her political and diplomatic role and must also include her marriage to Prince Philip, a 73-year partnership that illustrates the value and benefit of companionship across the lifespan.


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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip married on November 20, 1947 at the ages of 21 and 25 years old, respectively. For decades, he remained here "strength and stay." The Queen's death a little more than a year after Prince Philip's is regrettably in step with research findings on what is often dubbed the "widowhood effect," a well-known finding that the loss of a partner elevates the risk of death for the surviving spouse. This increased risk illustrates the tremendous influence that marriage and other committed partnerships have on one's health.

Marriage Impacts Life Expectancy and Physical Health

Total life expectancy in married US men and women surpasses that of matched controls who have never married. Reasons for this are multifactorial, but cohabitation is consistently cited as one vehicle by which marriage exerts positive benefits on both physical and mental health. For example, living alone is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other chronic medical conditions. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis of over 7 million individuals revealed a 12 percent and 9 percent increased risk of death from cancer among unmarried men and women, respectively. The loss of a stable marriage has similar repercussions. or 2021 study in the International Journal of General Medicine revealed that marital dissolution through divorceseparation, or widowhood all resulted in statistically significant increases in the development of diabetes mellitus.

It is noteworthy that the benefits of long-term partnership and marriage are not strictly gendered. Emerging research suggests that the health advantages of marriage seen in heterosexual couples also extend to lesbian, gay, and bisexual male and female couples when compared to adults who have never married.

Marriage May Protect against Mental Illness

Long-term spousal partnerships also confer protection from mental illness. The classic 1897 sociological text Suicide and the subsequent work by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim found that marriage protects against suicide, although this finding was more pronounced among men than women. Cross-cultural research shows that this association still holds, with increased incidence of major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidality noted in South Korea among individuals who remain single beyond the mean age of marriage in the general population. More recently analyzes during the Covid-19 pandemic indicated that the psychological benefits of marriage were protective against the effects of pandemic-related hardship, including unpredictable financial insecurity.

To be sure, not all marriages are successful. As a practicing psychiatrist of 17 years, I have certainly encountered patients who felt that marital dissolution benefited both parties. The definition of "marriage" is also embedded in varied political and sociocultural contexts, meaning that the legal status of marriage by itself is likely to be less consequential for one's physical and mental health without the corresponding sense of companionship and deep affiliation that often comes with such a union. Marriage is also not the only means by which social intimacy can develop.

Social connectedness has been steadily challenged in recent years, most recently by Covid-19. Many may feel that companionship and close ties with others are "out of reach" and that they are "out of practice." But the benefits to personal well-being are readily evident. While many may choose to focus on the political consequences and future direction of the monarchy following Queen Elizabeth II's death, we can also embrace the lasting example of spousal affection and endearment embodied by Her Majesty.

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