Can pets help the mentally ill

Pet ownership, for most, offers ongoing fulfillment that cannot be duplicated. It affords boundless joy, comfort, companionship and, more importantly, unconditional love and acceptance. These needs are primal in humans. On the flip side, having a pet can be time consuming and costly, but if you have the time and money, they are definitely worth it.

Besides the obvious benefits, can pets can be therapeutic as well? Some studies say, yes! Results of research being conducted across the world support the claim that animals, do indeed, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and increase exercising, all of which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Others even claim that animals contribute to reducing anxiety, depression and can improve self-esteem. I, for one, agree with them.

My personal experience with bipolar disorder mimics that of many others. When I was unstable my symptoms included extreme mania and severe depression, including three suicide attempts. I would have attempted suicide numerous other times if it had not been for my pets. At the time I owned two dogs (one has since passed away) and simply knowing that they needed my care kept me alive. I rationalized in my head that if they did not have me they would surely die, and I didn’t want that burden hanging over me. It may not be a reasonable argument, but the mentally ill are often not logical.

Also, my dogs were quite intuitive, recognizing when I was depressed and needed extra attention. On the days I stayed in bed, they were always with me, one on each side, within petting reach. It is comforting and rewarding to pet an animal. They are always appreciative of the attention and show you by wagging a tail, nuzzling, purring, etc. That alone can put a smile on the face of even the most depressed person. In addition, they forced me to get out of bed when they needed to go outside or were hungry. Simply getting up lifted my spirits. Had I been alone, I surely wouldn’t have moved from bed at all.

I encourage people who have a mental illness to consider getting a pet. They add purpose to your life, provide you with a nonjudgmental ear and are typically affectionate. All of these things can aid in gaining stability. If you do not have the time or money for your own pet, you can still benefit from the healing power of animals. Find a friend with a pet, volunteer at a shelter or veterinarian’s office or even visit a local pet store that sells animals. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.