Thursday, February 9, 2017
How Pets Support People With Mental Illness.
Researchers from the University of Manchester interviewed 54 people with long-term mental health problems regarding the role of pets in their lives. They were given a diagram with three concentric circles surrounding a square meant to represent themselves and asked to fill in their sources of support (with the most important sources filling in the closest circle and then radiating outward). Nearly half of the participants included pets (dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, fish and more were part of the study) as part of their social network. Among them, 60 percent placed pets in the closest circle while 20 percent put them in the second closest. The participants noted many benefits of pet ownership, including being a source of physical contact and comfort, as well as providing a way to channel emotional energy. Many participants reported that their pets intuitively know when they're feeling unwell and act accordingly. The relationship between owners and their pets was so strong that it provided a distraction from negative feelings and symptoms, such as hearing voices among a person with schizophrenia. The researchers suggested pets could provide a therapeutic role in distracting their owners from suicidal ideation, feelings of loneliness and other symptoms of mental illness. In other cases, pets provided a much-need source of levity and humor. The participants noted their pets provided a source of unconditional love, accepted them for who they were without judgement or resentment. Among those with mental illness, many of whom feel stigmatized even by friends and family, this was invaluable. Many also noted the human-animal bond as being a reciprocal relationship, whereas human relationships in their lives were not regarded that way. Some even believed their pets to be struggling with similar symptoms (such as post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), which helped alleviate feelings of isolation and alienation. It's noteworthy, also, that many of the participants were unemployed and struggling with daily life. The pets had a positive effect here, too, as owners felt pride and validation about successfully caring for the pet, keeping him healthy and teaching him tricks. The caring for pets helped the participants to develop routines and gain a sense of control over their lives.