Pets and mental health
Whilst watching “A Star is Born” recently, NHHQ got a bit emotional. OK, truth be told, “a bit emotional” is underplaying it a smidge; “wailed and wept and cried for three hours straight” would be a more accurate description. What was interesting, was that in this somewhat protracted period of self-induced distress, the NHHQ Hound was very obviously, very deliberately trying to offer comfort and support: never leaving my side, leaning into me, putting his head in my hands, sniffing at me in concern. “I am here, I am here” he kept insisting. He instinctively knew not to leave me alone, to do what he could to make me feel better.
Today is World Mental Health Day, and this experience has NHHQ looking into all the ways in which pets can be a source of companionship, comfort, support and motivation for their owners. It has us thinking about how pets can assist those with mental health issues, and what that help might look like. It turns out that pets are one of the greatest tools of support for a wide range of issues, and can help us all to live mentally healthier lives. Let’s look at how.
Fighting Depression through Exercise
Dogs are experts at encouraging owners to get exercise. The daily dog walk or walks can be hugely beneficial for those suffering from depression.
Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking the dog, or playing with or sitting next to a pet can give us humans a chance to relax and calm our minds. Successfully looking after your pet also gives your day a certain structure, purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. Their love and reliance on us helps us feel needed and valued.
Encouraging Social Interaction
We all know that walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners. These interactions can be critical for those who struggle to stay socially connected and can encourage people to be less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier. A shared interest in dogs is a fantastic way to spark up a friendship – there is always lots to talk about and share, even for those who are shy and don’t like immediately talking about themselves. Dog training, habits, food likes and dislikes, quirks of character – these are all short-cuts into conversations that could be an incredibly important part of the day for someone struggling to make connections.
A pet is a great antidote to loneliness. They give owners company, a sense of security and someone to share the routine of the day with. Pets can be especially valuable company for those in later life and living alone.
The comfort and reassurance of another creature in the house can often be extremely valuable for those in advanced years who live alone. Furthermore, with an animal in the home, it has been shown that people with Alzheimer’s often have fewer anxious outbursts.
Children with ADHD can often benefit from a pet in the home. From learning about responsibility and planning by helping take charge of the jobs on a pet care schedule, to using play as a healthy release for excess energy, dogs are a great assistance in dealing with attention disorder issues.
Taking dogs out on regular walks gives children the opportunity to get lots of fresh air and exercise, meaning that they will be more likely to be able to concentrate when they get home or back into the classroom.
Listening without Prejudice
Pets are patient listeners. They do not criticise or judge, or tell a child to sit still or be calm, which can be a welcome break from all the adults trying to manage a child with an attention disorder, or indeed tell an adult with a problem that they have heard it before and just need to “get over it”. Their capacity to absorb our anxiety is enormous, and they do so without complaint and without unhelpful comments or interrupting.
Us pet owners are very aware of the immediate joys that come with sharing our lives with our delightful companion animals. Instagram and Facebook are jam-packed with funny videos of the cute antics of our furry friends that make us laugh and cheer us up. However, it seems that the physical and mental health benefits that come from sharing our daily lives with our beloved animals are more far-reaching than an occasional smile or giggle at a cat in silly sunglasses. They help us stay long-term more mentally healthy. Isn’t that fantastic? (And comfort us soppy emotional types through the sad bits of films too. Next stop, “Terms of Endearment.” Where’s the dog?)