Animals are good for your mental health!
by Marissa Steingold
English patients with confirmed diagnoses of severe mental illness (such as bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia) were interviewed extensively about their interactions with animals. Whereas their relationships with humans were often strained, animals provided a safe space in which to interact, a sense of unconditional love and pride. The constant routine of pet ownership also forced the subjects to remain engaged with the outside world—even during mental health episodes.
Earlier studies have revealed animals’ remarkable ability to reduce humans’ stress and loneliness, and to boost both quality of life and physical health. Hence, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is common in psychiatric wards and assisted living facilities. For military veterans recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), organizations such as This Able Veteran suicide https://www.thisableveteran.org/ train dogs to help vets cope with trauma and prevent suicide. But few resources exist for civilians living at home with mental health conditions.
The Bottom line
The authors stress the importance of implementing pet-related programs as part of a holistic approach to mental illness recovery. When pet owners are institutionalized, for example, they should receive help caring for their animals. Regular exposure to animals can make a real difference in mental health sufferers’ everyday lives, so let’s facilitate that connection.
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