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How Animals can Help with Mental Illness and Addiction

Pets are members of the family that stay with us for many years and become a big part of our life. These animals can provide many benefits, assisting with recovery from drug addiction and helping to alleviate stress, depression and more. And this statement is based on much more than anecdotal evidence, as the studies and research in this article shows.

Pets Reduce Stress Hormones

Simply being around animals is enough to reduce the buildup of hormones that lead to stress and to increase feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. This feel-good factor is intensified when we play with the animals or stroke them, which is why they have been recommended to help with everything from depression and anxiety to emotional sobriety, which is the term used to refer to the emotionally protracted withdrawal symptoms associated with recovery.

Pets Reduce Blood Pressure

These benefits are much more than psychological—they also provide a marked improvement in our physical health. Stroking a cat, a dog or even a small pet like a rabbit can significantly reduce blood pressure, which is a direct result of a reduction in stress hormones.

This means that simply having a cat, a dog or another calming pet in your house can drastically reduce your chance of a cardiac episode and potentially prolong your life as a result. The pet doesn’t need to be big and it doesn’t even need to be fluffy. In one study on this subject a group of adults were asked to stroke a number of objects in addition to a turtle and a rabbit, and they found that there was no improvement in stress levels with the other objects but there were significant improvements with the turtle and rabbit.

Pet Owners are Happier and More Confident

A very interesting study conducted a few years ago found that pet owners are much more confident and have higher levels of self-esteem on average. Researchers in this study asked several hundred subjects to fill-in forms designed to gauge levels of self-esteem, confidence and depression, and noted major improvements in all pet owners.

There are many reasons why this is the case, including the fact that owning a pet makes them feel wanted. After all, that pet relies on them for food and love, and in the case of dogs, it also relies on them for exercise. This may not make a huge difference to the psychology of a parent who is used to having people rely on them, but for someone who is alone it can make a huge difference and when you consider how prevent suicide is in lonely people, it could even be the difference between life or death.

Pets Help Improve Mental Illness

As a result of everything mentioned above and much more (including the improved fitness from walking the animals, the reduced loneliness from owning them and the increased sense of worth from caring for them) pets can help to hasten recovery from mental illness and help with fast recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

A meta-analysis conducted in 2017 looked at 9 databases across 17 animal/human health studies and backed-up all of these claims, noting significant improvements in psychological health for patients with pets and suggesting that introducing a pet to someone with depression or anxiety could greatly help them in their recovery.

And this is something that is already happening throughout the mental health sector. Pets are also being introduced into care facilities for elderly patients, cancer patients and youngsters suffering from mental illnesses. Care workers are discovering that while they don’t work for everyone (there are those who simply don’t like animals and will therefore not benefit from being around them) the majority of patients are experiencing notable benefits.

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