As much as we all love our pets, did you know that they are scientifically proven to improve our mental health?
The bond between humans and animals is so powerful and the correlation between pets and mental health is undeniable. According to a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of pet owners think of their animal as a member of the family. Research validates the benefits our pets have on our mental health. The mental health benefits of owning a dog or cat have been proven by scientific studies. Animals are known to help with depression, anxiety and stress. In addition to this, they provide companionship and unconditional love.
The first study conducted on pets and mental health was published 30 years ago but is ever evolving. Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania conducted the study. Therefore, they measured what happens to the body when a person pets a friendly dog. They found that our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate slowed, our breathing became more relaxed and muscle tension relaxed. These are all signs of reduced stress and therefore the first study discovered the physical evidence of mental health benefits of pets.
Since then studies have found that interacting with a friendly dog reduces levels of cortisol, a stress hormone and releases oxytocin, because of this studies show how powerful animal-assisted therapy can be.
Pets are also able to increase our sense of self- esteem and well being.. Recently, psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted three experiments on the benefits of pet ownership. Subsequently, the American Psychological Association published the results. These studies showcased even more benefits that pets have to our health. Studies have showers that pet- owners had improved self-esteem, they were more physically fit, less lonely, more conscientious, more extroverted and less fearful!
A 2016 study at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom involved 54 participants. All of them had been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a result, 60% of participants placed a pet in their most important circle of supportive connections. Furthermore, about half of the participants said that pets helped them manage their illness and everyday life. Having pets also gave them a strong sense of identity, self-worth, and meaning. Moreover, pets distracted them from symptoms like hearing voices, suicidal thoughts, or rumination. Moreover, caring for a pet also gave owners a feeling of being in control. Plus, it gave them a sense of security and routine.
Pets allow us to socialise without even knowing we are doing it, for example, walking a dog leads to conversations with other dog-owners usually about something they are both passionate about (their beloved four-legged friends) which helps those struggling with mental health feel more confident and more trusting of others.
The last factor to show that animals improve our mental health is that a pet will provide you with unconditional love. They give owners a sense of belonging, a purpose. To your pet you are their master, they will love you no matter what and if you treat them how they deserve you will have a friend for life.