Depression. It’s one of the most common mental health issues in our society and one of the most dangerous. Added to that, nearly one in twelve of us is experiencing it right now. With so many suffering from depression and its notorious difficulty in being treated effectively, it’s amazing that there is actually a surprising source of support available to us that we may even have in our household right now. I’m talking about pets.
Pets are an essential treatment in the fight against depression and many other mental health conditions. By providing an affectionate, comforting presence to their owners whenever they need it, pets can help to improve their owner’s health simply and naturally. Let’s look into the ways that pets can assist in fighting depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is a serious mental illness that can be debilitating for its sufferers, and even endanger lives. Depression is characterized as a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These symptoms may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior or self-esteem. Depression is also a mental illness that can be associated with thoughts of suicide.
Pets and Depression: The Science Behind It
For a long time, humans have had a hunch that time spent with animals has a healing quality to it. From early civilization, we’ve slowly domesticated animals to the point where we keep them inside our houses, and our affinity with our animals just seems to continue to grow stronger and stronger. Animals have a unique way of distracting us from our problems and helping us to feel more grounded and happier. But how exactly do they manage to do this? And what outcomes can be seen for sufferers of depression? New research has been breaking ground on the effects of animals in treating mental health concerns, including depression, that is making health professionals sit up and take notice. Of course, depression is a complex disease, believed to have possible causes which include a combination of biological, psychological and social sources of distress. Current research suggests that these factors can cause certain changes in brain function, for example, altered activity of certain neural circuits in the brain.
What the Research Says
Studies have increased in this field of treatment of late due to promising early results. According to researchers, there are a whole range of benefits that come from spending time with pets, which we can reap the benefits of very easily. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has been instrumental in determining the ways in which animals assist in supporting mental health.
Physical Effect of Pets on Depression
Some of the key findings of HABRI regarding the effects of animals on mental health included the physical benefits of being around these creatures. In terms of stress reduction in the brain, studies showed that the presence of therapy animals significantly reduced the amount of cortisol and other stress hormones present in the brain, lowering stress levels and calming owners. Another important physical change that pets can effect in the brain is the encouragement of production of feel good chemicals, such as oxytocin and dopamine, which can help to assist the brain to re balance itself, and therefore fight off the effects of depression more effectively.
Psychological Effect of Pets on Depression
Another important aspect of pet’s effects on mental health, are the psychological support they provide. Pets can provide a wide range of assistance to their owner in changing and even breaking their psychological habits which can be extremely effective in treating depression sufferers. For example, pets can provide a welcome distraction to negative thoughts, breaking the cycle of these. They can assist in giving an owner back purpose and control to their lives. Another important effect for those with depression is the motivation they provide to exercise outside, and even socialize in an indirect fashion.
While they may appear like just an adorable ball of fluff, pets can actually have powerful effects on our mental health (read more). From their physical to their psychological effects, they can assist in helping a huge range of conditions, including depression. From the amazing physical changes they can make in our brain, to their excellent psychological effects, it’s clear that pets are a valid treatment option for those who are struggling with their mental health. If you or someone you love is experiencing depression, talk to a doctor or therapist about how the company of a pet or emotional support animal could help you or your loved one to be supported their fight against this difficult condition.