Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Quintessential Queen

I am generally fascinated by the British royal family, but I am in awe of Queen Elizabeth. When I heard that she had left the worries of this world behind yesterday, I couldn’t keep myself from interrupting a team meeting to pause and pay tribute. The United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth’s passing at the age of 96 marks the end of a seventy-year reign, the end of an era.

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Queen Elizabeth will go down in history as someone who embodied the quintessential qualities of a great public servant. Leadership matters whether we are talking about small teams or global leaders. Great leaders model qualities that benefit the mental health of those they serve.

1. Dignity. Refers to a person’s inherent value and worth. Having dignity means being respected and recognized for who you are. Queen Elizabeth served with dignity and modeled a practice of treating others with dignity. Respected for having remained above the fray and chaos of royal family antics and British politics, she became the ultimate British culture carrier and protector of a national character. Dignity in mental health means that the basic human rights and well-being of all individuals with mental health conditions are safeguarded, a seemingly simple mandate that has been violated in myriad ways around the world and throughout history. For individuals with mental health issues, living a life characterized by dignity means being able to lead meaningful lives according to one’s own choices and values that are not restrained by stigma, social exclusion, and isolation. 

2. Resilience. Means having the skills to endure hardship and cope with difficulties; resilience refers to one’s ability to weather life’s storms and thrive. Queen Elizabeth earned the admiration of people all over the world for her capacity to serve as a ‘pillar of stability,’ ‘a stalwart,’ and ‘a global icon of calmness and fortitude’ throughout decades of upheaval and change. Crowned in 1953, she was queen during a period of profound social and political change, including post-war austerity, the transition of the British Empire to the Commonwealth, the end of the Cold War, and the United Kingdom’s short-lived membership in the European Union. Resilience is a quality that is associated with positive mental health. It can protect against mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and can offset the risk associated with trauma.

3. Vision. To imagine; the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. Queen Elizabeth had a tenure of service that provided ample experience. Her seven decades of experience informed a vision that she steadily championed. Vision requires perspective-taking and self-awareness. It is linked to the idea that change is possible and is fueled by hope and optimism. As I have described in previous Five on Fridays, hope and optimism enhance psychological well-being and are protective of our mental health.

4. Purpose. A commitment to a goal or ideal greater than oneself. When we have a sense of purpose, we experience meaning and fulfillment in our life activities and choices. Purpose is associated with the experience of agency, which is linked to better mental health as it increases self-confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of self-worth. There is no question that Queen Elizabeth found purpose in devoting herself to fulfilling her commitment to live a life in service to the British people. Ample evidence documents that purpose is correlated with enhanced overall health, including mental health. Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative life events and exposures. Individuals with a strong sense of purpose in life report better stress management than individuals without a strong sense of purpose.

5. Fortitude. Defined as showing courage in the face of pain or adversity. Queen Elizabeth’s fortitude was put to the test personally, politically, and publicly. The tabloids have covered the more sordid challenges and the BBC has the political and public challenges on record. Queen Elizabeth persevered with fortitude. Fortitude is an essential quality that enables individuals with mental illness to embark on a journey of recovery. Given the enduring nature of certain mental illnesses, the stigma, social exclusion, and isolation, and the deficiencies in mental health services around the world, the journey is replete with adversity for many individuals with mental health concerns. Fortitude reduces risk and increases capacity to pursue health and recovery.

Queen Elizabeth was a public servant whose leadership embodied dignity, resilience, vision, purpose, and fortitude. Qualities that support and inspire others. Qualities that are indispensable for effective leaders, beneficial for those they serve, and vital for optimal mental health.

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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