Pets are about more than just looking cute. Owning a pet helps people lead healthy lives -- and for people battling depression, animals trained to help people overcome their mental health and sometimes physical problems are worth many times their weight in gold.
Depression is a mental disorder that affects a person's ability to work, sleep and generally enjoy activities they formerly enjoyed. Effective treatments for depression include prescription drugs, exercise, dietary changes and therapy. Depression can limited to a single episode that lasts a short period to a life-long condition that makes leading a normal life virtually impossible. Experts at John Hopkins Medicine believe pets can have a positive impact on the lives of people who suffer from depression.
Pets provide unconditional love that counterbalances the complexities of human relationships, such as spousal demands, parental expectations and parenting dilemmas. Pets just want to be loved. They do not not care if the bed is made or you are working up to your potential. Being responsible for domesticated animals gives people with depression an opportunity to interact with a living, breathing being. The same routine that animals like, such as feeding, watering and exercise, is good for a depressed person because it gives the person something to look forward to and depend on.
Meanwhile, the activity of caring for a pet, such as walking a dog, cleaning a cat box or currying a horse, is a form of exercise and mental stimulation. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the brain that relieve the symptoms of depression; exercising with a domesticated animal takes it up a notch.
Types of Pets
The type of pet that works best with a depressed person depends on the the person. While some people favor cats, others favor dogs. People with limited funds available to care for a pet may find a fish or a bird a suitable companion. The type of pet is not the deciding factor in regard to whether the animal can help the person deal with depression. The devotion between the pet and the owner is what will ultimately aid in managing the depression.
Adopting a pet is not a good decision for every person with depression. Some people are afraid of animals or may feel overwhelmed with other obligations. Other people are so far immersed in the well of depression that they can't take care of themselves and may be unable to take care of a pet -- people in this condition may benefit more from visiting with other people's pets than to have one of their own. The physical contact of petting a dog or watching birds flutter around may act as a subtle catalyst to drawing the depressed patient out of her solitude.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 6.5 million American senior citizens suffer from depression. Many such seniors live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where they cannot have pets. That doesn't mean they cannot benefit from interacting with animals.
Many animal groups, such as the American Humane Association, sponsor the training of animals that are taken into hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities to interact with patients. Such pets are trained to remain calm under any circumstances. This training allows patients to enjoy the animals without the anxiety or possible injuries that may result from a rambunctious pet or a crisis during a visit.