Mental Health Awareness Week - The Power of Pets
This week, May 9th-15th, marks Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK, with the official theme of the week being ‘loneliness’. Whilst many of us know about the joys and impact our pets have on our lives, many of us are unaware of just how many health benefits having a pet can bring us. Read on to find out.
Over time pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to human behaviour and emotions. For example, dogs are now able to understand many words of the human language as well as our body language and even the emotion in our tone of voice. So how else can our pets help and understand us?
Aforementioned, the theme of this year's ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ is loneliness. Loneliness can affect many of us and can be a huge driving factor in our mental health. One way pets can improve our mental health is by providing companionship.
Pets not only offer a sense of security and company, but they can also be a great source of conversation and an easy crutch when making new friends.
Research has found that animals help build social connections in both children, teens and adults. This is because they can help relieve social anxiety. It was also found that children who shared an emotional attachment to their dogs found it easier to build relationships with other people.
In a set of three experiments conducted by psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University, it was found that pet owners had improved well-being, were more physically fit, were less fearful, and were more extroverted/confident.
Out of the three studies, one looked into the effects pets have and adolescents. The results depicted that pets can help adolescents feel more confident and can also help them to feel better after experiencing rejection.
Similarly, a report conducted by the Pet Health Council, corroborated that children who grew up around pets had higher confidence and self-esteem as they could confide in their animals.
Alongside, acting as emotional support, pets can also help create healthy habits and help build routines, which again can help improve mental health. Pet care helps to support our own self-care, for example, studies have found that teens who groom horses for Equine Assisted Therapy were also better at remembering the importance of their own self-care and health needs.
Not only this but some pets, in particular dogs, are a great motivation for keeping fit and making us spend more time in nature.
Most pets also require feeding first thing in the morning or on a regular schedule - this is a great reason to be motivated to get up and start the day, no matter what mood you are in.
Having this sense of purpose and daily routine can help us feel more grounded and focused.
Mental Health Recovery
Pets are also great to help people recovering from mental health issues. Studies have found that playing and petting your pet (even just for 5 minutes) can raise our serotonin and dopamine level. Both these ‘happy hormones’ help calm, and relax the nervous system.
In a meta-analysis of 17 academic papers, researchers found evidence that pets benefit people with poor mental health. The papers looked into how dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish, and finches affect the well-being of people diagnosed with mental health conditions. Overall, it was ascertained that pets helped their owners manage their emotions and offered a distraction from symptoms.
Another study conducted by the University of Manchester in 2016 found similar results. The study looked at 54 participants all diagnosed with severe mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder). Similarly, it was reported that over half of patients felt their pet(s) helped to manage their illness and everyday life, as well as distracted them from symptoms (such as hearing voices), and offered them a sense of identity and self-worth.
Last but not least, pets provide unconditional love. This kind of unconditional love is great for mental health and can stimulate the brain to release dopamine - making you happier and healthier!
To learn more about the power pets, click here to read our blog ‘The Power Of The Pooch In ASD Families’.