As I write this article about pets and mental health, I sit next to my 4 year old dog, Rufus. I am regularly reminded in my daily life of the valuable role pets can play in our lives. Pets can play a huge role in providing support and have been shown to have both physical and psychological benefits in the lives of those they touch.
Having a pet in one’s life is for many people a source of emotional support and comfort. Pets can act as companions and help battle feelings of loneliness. They can also enhance a person’s sense of meaning and responsibility.
In an article on BioMedCentral exploring the important role pets can play for people with mental health disorders, one person notes the connection their cat facilitates for them. “You just want to sink into a pit and just sort of retreat from the entire world, they force me, the cats force me to sort of still be involved with the world” (https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/press-centre/science-press-releases/09-12-16-).
Regularly I speak to people about the importance of developing a routine, regular exercise, and daily activities to support them in coping with depression. Having something you have to do first thing when you wake up in the morning can be very helpful. In addition to this, getting outside can serve as its own intervention for depression.
Needing to wake up first thing in the morning to take your dog for a walk, provides exercise, morning light, meaning and routine. Beth Brownsberger Mader on BPhope.com shared, “Whether I’m too down or too up to feel like it, once we’re outside and walking, even on my worstest-no-good-terrible-very-bad days, just moving my body a little bit makes things a smidgen better, and we end up staying out longer” (http://www.bphope.com/pets-the-perfect-exercise-companions/).
Also, pets can serve as social connectors. Regularly when I take Rufus out for a walk and I stopped and asked his name, his age, if someone can pet him. This type of social exposure can be especially beneficial for someone who has been struggling with increased isolation or social anxiety. In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs has an animal assisted therapy programs for veterans with PTSD that helps serve this purpose. In addition to serving as emotional supports, they have found that pets help increase social engagement and battle social avoidance.
As more people continue to see the impact pets can have on emotional and physical health, research continues to grow. If you have a pet, take the time to think about how they impact your mental health and if there is any way you can incorporate them into your care plan.
Mader, B. B. (26 January 2016). Bipolar & Pets: The Perfect Exercise Companion. Retrieved from http://www.bphope.com/pets-the-perfect-exercise-companions/
Orpen, A. (12 September 2016). Pets offer valuable support for owners with mental health problems. Retrieved from https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/press-centre/science-press-releases/09-12-16-
Ross, E. (9 December 2016). Pets Help People Manage The Pain Of Serious Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/12/09/504971146/pets-help-people-manage-life-with-serious-mental-illness
The National Center for PTSD: The Department of Veterans Affairs. (14 August 2015). Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp