Animals are good for your mental health!

by Marissa Steingold




The Science
English patients with confirmed diagnoses of severe mental illness (such as bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia) were interviewed extensively about their interactions with animals.[1] 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. 

Expert Insight
Earlier studies have revealed animals’ remarkable ability to reduce humans’ stress[2] and loneliness[3], and to boost both quality of life[4] and physical health[5]. 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 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.

Brooks, Helen, et al. “Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition.” BMC Psychiatry 16.1 (2016): 409.

[2] Allen K. “Are pets a healthy pleasure? The influence of pets on blood pressure.” Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2003;12(6):236–9.

[3] Perese EF, Wolf M. “Combating loneliness among persons with severe mental illness: social network interventions’ characteristics, effectiveness, and applicability.” Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2005;26(6):591–609.

[4] Brenna OV. “Quality of life and pets.” J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011;127(1):287. author reply 287–8.

[5] Allen K, Blascovich J, Mendes WB. “Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs.” Psychosom Med. 2002;64(5):727–39.