Ways Pets Can Help People with a Mental Illness

by Jessica Brody

 

Mental illness is a condition that wreaks havoc with your feelings, thoughts and mood. It makes it difficult to function in day-to-day life. Early treatment and cooperation with those who are aiding in your recovery can help you overcome the obstacles of mental illness. In the past, doctors believed that animals had no place in mental health treatment, but times have changed.

 

Now, scientists have discovered that pets can help you improve your mental health. Even those with serious mental illnesses receive a wealth of benefits when they interact with a pet. Having a pet in your life can decrease stress, depression, anxiety and fear. It eases loneliness, providing you with companionship when you may feel isolated from society.

 

Pets Help with Depression

 

If you’re depressed, it’s easy to isolate yourself from normal social activity. People who are depressed are often tired and uninterested in things they used to enjoy doing. But when you have a pet, you are more motivated to stay active. Dogs need to be walked. They want you to play with them. Cats may not go out for walks, but they’re not opposed to chasing a toy or batting a bit of string. And in order to do this, they need you to interact with them. Just petting a dog or cat makes you feel calm and at peace. Since pets require daily care, a depressed person feels wanted and has a sense of purpose in life.

 

Pets Help with Stress

 

People who own pets experience lower blood pressure levels than people who don’t have pets. If you have borderline hypertension, adopting a dog can cause a decrease in blood pressure. Studies have shown that playing with your dog or cat increases your levels of serotonin and dopamine, two hormones that help you remain calm and relaxed.

 

Pets Help with Loneliness

 

When you have a mental illness, you often feel like you live on an island, isolated from people that don’t struggle with the same types of conditions. You may feel that people automatically judge you before trying to get to know you. But that’s not the case with a pet. Pets demonstrate unconditional love. They don’t care if you have a mental illness; they only care about being with you. Pets also provide you with a feeling of security. The predictable routines of caring for and feeding your pet offer you a social and emotional safety net.

 

Taking your dog for a walk is another method of easing loneliness. When you and your dog go for a walk in the park or even stroll down the street, other dog owners may stop and interact with you and your pet. You meet new people and make friends among other dog owners. As a result, your mental health may improve because you will be less socially withdrawn.

 

Introducing a New Pet to Your Home

 

When you adopt a pet and bring it to your home, you’ll need to make sure it feels comfortable. If you adopt a dog, as soon as you arrive home, let your new dog get used to the scent of his new domain. Keeping him on a leash, allow him to sniff around the rooms where he will be allowed to roam. Don’t forget to let him sniff around the yard too. Show him the spot where you expect him to potty. When he goes potty in the appropriate area, reward him with a doggy treat.

 

Where your dog will sleep and eat are extremely important too. According to Wayfair, your dog is “most vulnerable when it’s sleeping, so you want to make sure it feels as safe and comfortable as possible, especially when settling into a new home.” Take care in introducing your new pooch his dog bed or crate (both of which are available for dogs of any size) as well as his food and water bowls, and be sure to have these before bringing your pup home. Have his toys near his bed so he knows they belong to him.

 

Are you adopting a cat? She’ll probably feel stressed out when she arrives at your home. Give her time to grow accustomed to you and her new abode. At first, keep your cat in one room of the house. The room should contain her bed, food and water bowls, litter box and toys. Don’t force your new cat to be near you. Get her used to your presence by sitting near her as she eats her food. Gently wave a cat toy to see if she wants to engage in play. In other words, let her come to you when she’s ready.

 

When you’re struggling with a mental illness, taking care of a pet can be a beneficial part of your therapy. Pets alleviate stress, provide you with a purpose in life, and shower you with unconditional love and affection. While medication and traditional therapy are important components of your treatment, sharing your home with a pet improves your quality of life and can set you on the road toward a healthier future.