Pets Can Help with Management of Mental Health Conditions

Woman on a walk with her dogBuilding on previous research showing the positive effects pet ownership can have on mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, a new study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry suggests pets can improve people’s management of diagnosed mental health conditions.

Pet Ownership as a Mental Health Self-Care Strategy

The study involved 54 semi-structured interviews with people diagnosed with a mental health condition. Twenty-five participants owned a pet.

Researchers asked participants who or what played the most helpful role in managing their mental health. Each participant could fill in a diagram consisting of three concentric circles to explain the importance of various people and things. People and things placed in the center circle were considered the most important.

Most participants with pets put their pets in the center circle. People who reported strained relationships with other people in their support network were even more likely to give their pets a central role, suggesting pets might help offset the stress of difficult relationships with friends and family.

Study participants felt their pets helped them manage their mental health by offering them secure, meaningful relationships, which they did not receive from other people in their support network. Pets had a calming influence, providing consistent reassurance and companionship. Pets also helped distract participants from painful emotions and upsetting thoughts, including suicidal tendencies.

A related study found pets could also help with chronic physical conditions. However, people with mental health conditions reported more strained relationships with friends and family and experienced more stigma related to their mental health than those with physical health conditions.

The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Several previous studies have linked pet ownership to positive mental and physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership can:

  • Reduce feelings of loneliness
  • Provide an incentive to exercise
  • Increase opportunities for socialization
  • Improve cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides

A 2015 study also linked pet ownership to a reduction in children’s anxiety.

References:

  1. Brooks, H. (2016, December 9). The hidden role of pets in the management of mental health conditions. Retrieved from http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2016/12/09/hidden-role-pets-management-mental-health-conditions/
  2. Health benefits of pets. (2014, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/

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  • Robin

    December 27th, 2016 at 11:41 AM

    But of course!
    Hence their success as therapy pets

  • Margie

    December 27th, 2016 at 2:04 PM

    Look, my dogs are like my children. I am not married and I don’t live with anyone so these are the one bright spot in my day. Some of you out there have actual people who are happy to see you when you come home at night, but for me it is my dogs.

    I would feel their loss like I would a family member because to me they ARE family.

  • Karen G

    December 28th, 2016 at 9:35 AM

    Having a dog has meant having to take a dog on walks, and that has been so good for me from both a mental health and physical health point of view.
    You see I am not naturally the outdoors type, but having her has given me a good reason to get a little more outdoorsy.
    She loves being outside and I appreciate having her there to give me that nudge of encouragement to get out, especially on the days I’m not really feeling it.

  • kelvin

    December 28th, 2016 at 12:17 PM

    My pets have never let me down the way that the humans in my life have. I will just leave it at that, and that is all I need to know about who in my life I should focus my attention and affection on. The ones who have always been there for me? Those are the ones that I am naturally going to want to be around more. The real people who have hurt me? These are people that I try not to have any use for anymore.

  • joely

    December 29th, 2016 at 9:02 AM

    Is it strange for me to think that I would like to be around pets but I am afraid to have one of my own? The responsibility of that seems a little overwhelming to me.

  • Griffin

    December 29th, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    When I was recovering from a bad car accident my mom brought my dog to the rehab place where I was staying every day and it really was very much a lifeline to recovery for both of us.
    I think that he had felt like I had abandoned him and when he finally got to come and see me instinctively he knew that I needed him and so he took care of me.
    the facility I was in was great about letting him come and see me daily. I really think that that along with the therapy from them has helped me become stronger today.

  • Mae

    December 30th, 2016 at 12:58 PM

    haven’t you seen the story about somewhere dementia patients are being allowed to care for baby kittens and that is doing wonders to their overall health? pets of any kind can be therapy for even those who don’t even know what they need anymore.

  • loren

    December 31st, 2016 at 1:10 PM

    I don’t know about you but my pets bring me a sense of peace that I don’t feel with humans. I just don’t. It is like they are all far more in tune with who I am and what my needs are than any other person that I know. Call me the crazy cat lady, don’t care. But I think that they are far more perceptive than humans are when it comes to knowing what we need.

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