Can Pet Ownership Have An Impact On Mental Health?

That pet ownership can assist an individual’s sense of well-being is nothing new. We’ve known for ages there are many general health benefits associated with owning a pet, such as improved cardiovascular health as a result of increased physical activity.

But what is emerging is the effects of pet ownership on mental health, namely, evidence that those with mental health disorders may find a pet helpful in managing their condition.

“Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to develop anxiety and depression — loneliness is a huge risk factor for poor mental health and our pets provide companionship and a sense of purpose,” Clare Ballingall, spokeswoman for The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told The West Australian earlier this year.

“A study called The Effects of Animals on Human Health and Wellbeing is an often-quoted paper that reviews the evidence that companion animals can improve health and quality of life — they concluded that the evidence is largely supportive of the view that pets are good for us.”

In terms of exactly how much a difference a pet could make, it obviously depends on the individual. It would be remiss to assume every single person would benefit from a pet. Likewise, it would be remiss to assume every single pet would benefit from an owner.

But for some, owning a pet can be the difference between life and death, and that’s no exaggeration.

“In terms of that intersection between human wellbeing and animals, for some people it’s very important,” Dr Janette Young, program director for the Bachelor of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia told HuffPost Australia.

“We are looking at the people who have talked about not taking their own lives because of a pet. This pet has made them feel needed and wanted and loved… it’s a very emotive response.

“And if you look at the theories around suicidality, it fits in with the need to be needed. To feel needed is very important.”

According to Young, the simpler relationship afforded between pet and owner may also benefit those whose mental health issues see them ostracised by others.

“It’s a really simple thing, but the dog or cat doesn’t talk back. It’s a simpler relationship,” she said. “My theory is, where people are vulnerable, they are quite often stigmatised, and if you are ostracised by people, well, for those individuals a relationship with an animal may be very important.”

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Source: Huffington Post

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