Guest author: Brandon Butler
If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, you may want to consider adopting a companion animal. Many people struggling with mental health conditions have found that a companion animal helps keep them steady and secure, even on their worst days. While all pet owners find comfort and companionship in their pets, this is especially true for those with mental health illnesses.
How Pets Help Those with Mental Health Conditions
Interactions with pets can lessen anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and offset feelings of depression. From songbirds lowering depression in men at a veteran’s hospital to dogs improving depression in college students, studies have shown a variety of companion animals can help numerous mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, and more.
People benefit from their companion animal’s presence in several ways. Some people feel a deep emotional connection with their pet that they don’t feel from friends and family. People also report that companion animals distract them from their illness and keep them from feeling socially withdrawn. For starters, you’ll never feel alone with a pet around your apartment or house. Also, dogs in particular serve as great icebreakers. When people see a dog in public, they tend to approach the dog to pet him or her to say hello.
Exercise along with creating and keeping routines are helpful for many people struggling with mental health issues. All animals need to be tended to and cared for, so they give you meaning and keep you engaged while you maintain a routine. Because they need to be walked two to three times a day, dogs in particular force you to remain active and stay on schedule even when you don’t feel like it.
Finding Therapy Animals
If you need your dog to be specially trained in assisting you with your specific mental health condition, groups like the American Humane Association offer animal-assisted therapy programs for people with depression and other mood disorders. You may also be able to find a local group in your area that offers training. The AKC offers a list of certified therapy dog training groups.
In order for your pet to be covered by the Disability Act and thus be able to go everywhere with you, it must be trained as a psychiatric service dog, which is different than training for a therapy dog or an emotional support animal (ESA). While the latter do have certain legal rights in housing situations and when flying, psychiatric service dogs have the same abilities and protection by laws as other service dogs, such as those for vision impairment.
Choosing and Caring for a Pet
When choosing a companion animal, there are some questions to help you determine which type of animal is best for you. Be aware of the space requirements for different animals and breeds, and consider the space in your home and yard. Also, consider the cons of different pets. For example, can you live with pet hair or do you mind changing a litter box every day? Different animals and breeds require different levels of care, so ensure that you have the time necessary to devote to a pet. They also have different activity levels, and those should align with your own. One of the most important concerns is the financial consideration.
Caring for your pet requires a lot of responsibility, but the five most important things to provide are exercise, food, grooming, veterinarian check-ups, and a schedule. Exercise burns off stored energy, keeps them healthy, and provides a bonding opportunity. Food and treats should be the right quality and amount. Grooming and regular veterinarian visits keep your pet comfortable and healthy. A regular schedule helps your pet’s temperament and helps you create a great relationship with your pet.
Adopting a companion animal may provide great benefits to you if you’re struggling with a mental health condition. Whether you’re suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or addiction, a pet can provide comfort, security, and companionship. When you and your pet become bonded, he or she will be by your side always without ever judging you or asking questions about your struggles. It’s an unconditional love that’s sure to benefit you both.