Contributed by Zawn Villines, GoodTherapy.org Correspondent
Building on previous research showing the positive effects pet ownership can have on mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, a new study published in the journal BMC Psychiatrysuggests pets can improve people’s management of diagnosed mental health conditions.
Pet Ownership as a Mental Health Self-Care Strategy
The study involved 54 semi-structured interviews with people diagnosed with a mental health condition. Twenty-five participants owned a pet.
Researchers asked participants who or what played the most helpful role in managing their mental health. Each participant could fill in a diagram consisting of three concentric circles to explain the importance of various people and things. People and things placed in the center circle were considered the most important.
Most participants with pets put their pets in the center circle. People who reported strained relationships with other people in their support network were even more likely to give their pets a central role, suggesting pets might help offset the stress of difficult relationships with friends and family.
Study participants felt their pets helped them manage their mental health by offering them secure, meaningful relationships, which they did not receive from other people in their support network. Pets had a calming influence, providing consistent reassurance and companionship. Pets also helped distract participants from painful emotions and upsetting thoughts, including suicidal tendencies.
A related study found pets could also help with chronic physical conditions. However, people with mental health conditions reported more strained relationships with friends and family and experienced more stigma related to their mental health than those with physical health conditions.
The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
Several previous studies have linked pet ownership to positive mental and physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership can:
- Reduce feelings of loneliness
- Provide an incentive to exercise
- Increase opportunities for socialization
- Improve cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides
A 2015 study also linked pet ownership to a reduction in children’s anxiety.
- Brooks, H. (2016, December 9). The hidden role of pets in the management of mental health conditions. Retrieved from http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2016/12/09/hidden-role-pets-management-mental-health-conditions/
- Health benefits of pets. (2014, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/
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