Pets do not improve the well-being of individuals with severe mental illness.

Pets do not improve the well-being of individuals with severe mental illness.

Pets and Mental Health: Debunking the Myth

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Having a furry companion by your side is often believed to be a boon for mental health. However, a recent study challenges this idea, particularly for pet owners with severe mental illnesses who don’t have trained therapy animals. While pets can play a vital role in the social lives of individuals with severe mental illnesses, they may not have a significant impact on their well-being, depression, anxiety, or loneliness levels.

This groundbreaking research builds upon a 2021 survey that observed a decline in mental health among animal owners. The global pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions likely contributed to this decline, as it posed challenges in caring for the pets and maintaining their needs. Dr. Emily Shoesmith, the lead author of the study and a research fellow at the University of York in the United Kingdom, suggests that the additional responsibilities of animal ownership, such as the financial burden and uncertain housing situations, may exacerbate stressors experienced by people living with severe mental illness.

The study, which involved 170 participants from the United Kingdom, including 81 pet owners, aimed to explore the relationship between mental health and pet ownership. Although the researchers found a marginal increase in well-being scores, they were unable to compare anxiety and depression levels due to the absence of corresponding data from the 2021 study. Dr. Shoesmith emphasizes the importance of considering the temperament and characteristics of the animal, as trained therapy animals with friendly, obedient, and relaxed personalities often offer enhanced well-being for individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Dr. Elena Ratschen, an associate professor of health services research, explains that future studies should delve deeper into the complex dynamics between humans and animals to better understand the specific requirements of individuals with severe mental illness who own pets. She suggests that expanding the research to include more participants and a wider variety of animals would contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Despite the lack of significant correlations between pet ownership and mental health scores, the study revealed that participants felt extremely attached to their animals. Over 95% of respondents reported that their pets provided companionship, consistency, and a profound sense of love. For individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, companion animals can serve as a vital part of their social network.

Dr. Ratschen highlights that dogs and cats were the most commonly owned animals among the study participants, a trend consistent with previous findings in general population surveys. However, it is essential to explore other types of animals and involve a more diverse range of individuals in future research.

In conclusion, while pets may not directly impact the mental health and well-being of people with severe mental illness, they unquestionably serve as valuable companions and sources of love and support. The relationship between humans and animals is multifaceted and warrants further investigation to provide deeper insights into the unique needs of those living with severe mental illness.

More information

For more information on the health benefits of having pets, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Sources

  • Human-Animal Interactions, news release, July 14, 2023
  • Image source: MedicineNet

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