Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Any of us that own lovable little balls of fur (or scales or feathers) knows how much your pet can brighten your life. However, is it possible that pets can be part of treating mental illness or improving mental health in general?
Results from a Google Search
Interacting with animals helps us produce serotonin and dopamine.
Pets calm us down.
Pets get us outdoors and/or socializing.
Pets make us feel accountable and needed.
Pets remind us to take care of ourselves.
Increase Exercise = healthier bodies = healthier minds.
"I always approach this subject from a very serious perspective. I ask my client 'what would happen to your pet if you died of suicide?'". Pets can be the perfect compliment, a twin flame, when it is a good fit. My cat, who passed last year, was my therapist. Seriously, that cat heard me talk more honestly than anyone and it always made me feel better." - My Unnamed Therapist (MS,LPC,NCC)
Conclusions From Actual Research
Research means results found from peer reviewed articles (not Facebook posts or website posts like this one!)
Research in Support of the Possible Correlation
The main reason many of us get pets is for companionship and love. It is also shown that interacting gently with an animal (petting a dog, watching a fish tank), can reduce your blood pressure.
A study which conducted semi-structured interviews concluded that pets should be considered a major support for self-management of long-term mental health problems and should be included in the delivery of future mental health programming. While emphasis is often placed on friends and family, not everyone has access to these relationships. Additionally, studying the general population living in single households showed that this demographic faces a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research Questioning the Correlation
On the other hand, owning a pet can place unneeded stress on an individual or household. In America, lifetime costs are about $8,000 USD for a medium sized dog and a $10,000 USD for a cat (with medical check-ups). Unfortunately, this makes taking care of pets properly unaffordable for some people who may benefit from their companionship. Even though companionship may lead to decreased feelings of isolation, it is agreed upon in critical reviews that the nature and extent of these relationships have not be studied thoroughly.
My Thoughts (if you're interested)
Bottom line: taking care of a living thing is a huge commitment and I BEG of you to not have a pet if you are not delivering a proper home and life (yes, I mean their entire lives). My own conclusion after reading various literature reviews is that, having a pet to support your mental health may be very beneficial for you but it is not the answer for everyone. Think seriously before you take responsibility for another living thing and be grateful for your little companion if you do feel that you two could improve each other’s lives. There are no two examples of identical findings when studying the nature of extent of these relationships, so it is up to you to decide for yourself what you need.
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