Friday, December 9, 2016

Study Finds That Pets Help People Cope With Mental Illness

A dog sitting on a lawn.
CC courtesy of Eric Sonstroem on Flickr.
People suffering from mental illness have known it for years, but science has only recently confirmed it: pets can help relieve the symptoms of mental illness. The study found that pets helped people cope with everything from loneliness to depression to schizophrenia and even thoughts of suicide.

The study was published today in the BMC Psychiatry journal. To many people, it’s not all that surprising. But in the health care field, it’s quite the breakthrough. The findings suggest that pets could become part of the treatment plan for patients diagnosed with mental illness. This is particularly important for patients who are seeking alternatives to medication.

Helen Brooks, lead author of the study, believes that part of the reason pets are so invaluable is that they serve as motivation.

"The routine these pets provide is really important for people. Getting up in the morning to feed them and groom them and walk them, giving them structure and a sense of purpose that they won't otherwise have," Brooks stated.

But that’s not the only benefit that pets provide. Several participants reported having a very close relationship with their pet, even surpassing the bonds they have with friends and family members.

"Many felt deep emotional connections with their pet that weren't available from friends and family," Brooks explained.

"When I'm feeling really low they are wonderful because they won't leave my side for two days," said a participant with two dogs and two cats. "They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it."

According to Mark Longsjo, Program Director of Adult Services at McLean Southeast (an inpatient mental facility in Massachusetts), it’s not unusual for people to form really strong connections with their pets.

"We have so many patients come through, and we always ask them about their support system. Sometimes its family members, sometimes its friends, but it's very common to hear about pets," Longsjo stated.

I’m not going to lie—it warms my heart to hear about stories like this. As an animal lover myself, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without my dog, Ruby.