Our furry friends offer more than just a boost to our mood - a new study says that pet ownership is especially beneficial for people with diagnosed mental health conditions.
A total of 17 studies were reviewed about pet ownership, including a look at the many ways in which pets helped their owners manage a mental health condition. The study found that the intensity of the connection between owner and pet helped those with mental health conditions, as well as the emotional support pets offer to those in times of crisis and the ability to help manage symptoms as they arise, the study stated.
Pets help people with mental health conditions because they provide a “consistent and proximate source of calming support and companionship,” as well as a perception that animals could tell when a person is in crisis and are able to help, the study stated. Additionally, pets help people maintain a positive sense of identity and sense of self, feeling that pets accept their owners without judgement, as well as bringing a sense of pride for caring for the animal.
The routine of owning a pet - daily walks, meals times, etc. - were also shown to benefit people suffering from mental health issues. “Dogs are brilliant at keeping focus on the moment and bringing back the joy of the everyday,” Lucy Donoughue said. “Last year, when I was in the middle of a depressive period, having my dog Zac meant that I still needed to get up and walk him - and being outside watching him run around, chasing birds or just enjoying the walk, was a huge help. He gave me a constant reason to leave the house”.
Although the benefits of pet ownership aren’t limited to those with diagnosable mental health problems, it was found that owning a pet brings an enhanced quality of life to those with mental health problems that include levels of social exclusion - in other words, study participants found it easier to make new relationships and found they made more and better connections with other people because of their pet.
For Lucy, this aspect of dog ownership really helped. “People with dogs also tend to speak with one and another - mainly about the dogs, admittedly - but there can be a real community amongst dog walkers, which can also help if you are feeling isolated” she said.
Counsellor and psychologist Philip Karahassan , who is a member of the Counselling Directory, said “Having a pet gives you space outside of your busy life schedule to show love affection and appreciation for another.
"In return not only does your pet gives you the same love that you have show to them back, but you get a felt sense of responsibility and nurturing from the kindness that you have shown to them.
"Helping you to feel confident, loved and empowered throughout your life.
"Just remember that a pet is a full time commitment and needs looking after too."