Mental health has gradually become a more openly discussed topic. Research into holistic approaches to improving well-being has unearthed proven evidence that dogs (and animals in general) can help. Mental health is something absolutely everybody has. “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being” is its literal definition. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, what better time to delve into discussing the benefits of dogs on mental health?
Rupert Has Saved My Life
Having developed mental health problems in early adolescence, for years I’ve experienced a wide range of therapies and medications. I can genuinely say that owning a puppy for the last year has had a MUCH greater impact on my well-being than any treatment. Part of the reason I bought my dog was because I knew how beneficial animals are on well-being. This is becoming more prevalent in my life everyday.
I can, hand on heart, say that owning Rupert has saved my life on many occasions. Ask any dog owner and they’ll tell you just how much love and companionship dogs provide. There is a reason why they are commonly referred to as a “man’s best friend”. The love dogs give is truly unconditional and provides a sense of purpose and security.
Having the responsibility to look after a pet often leads to a real sense of achievement. I’ve found that I do a lot more exercise than I did beforehand. Before it would be a struggle to leave the house for days. However, knowing I’m responsible for walking Rupert means I go out everyday now. Something that would previously have seemed impossible. I definitely don’t feel as lonely; meeting so many new people walking Rupert, and connecting with thousands of other dog owners in the Instagram community. This has helped me to develop more social skills and make lifelong friends.
A wealth of research shows the benefits of animal assisted interventions in aiding children with autism and ADHD. Horses and dogs can lessen sensory issues. They help children get used to different smells, sounds and textures, this has been proven by studies. Pets can help those learning to bond and enable them to form social interactions. Charitable organisations like Dogs for Therapy are incredibly successful at helping those with ongoing learning difficulties and mental health problems.
Furthermore, scientific research shows that, similar to mother and child bonding, developing relationships with animals triggers hormonal responses. The release of oxytocin lowers cortisol levels and reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Oxytocin has proven to ease stress, improve social skills and aid in lessening insomnia. Pet-therapy even lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. Better physical health generally helps alleviate anxiety and promotes well-being, so it’s a win win!
Animals and their impact on mental health is widely explored in high-security psychiatric hospitals. The home to some of the UK’s most violent mental health patients. One of four of these hospitals, in Scotland, runs an animal therapy centre. Here patients get the chance to pet and care for a variety of animals, such as hens and pigs. Feedback shows that animal therapy helps these patients channel aggression and intrusive thoughts. It also helps develop empathy and a sense of responsibility.
In summary, the benefit of animals on emotional health and well-being is enormous, and undeniably helps improve lives. If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health difficulties, there are a variety of websites such as Mind and Rethink that provide a wealth of information and resources.