You've seen the TV commercials, the person in black and white and sad while they watch their friends and family in color happy as can be? Then the sad individual gets help, sees the world in color and has a dog run into frame to play with them, or they are suddenly on the couch petting their beloved cat. Well, there's a reason for that, pets can help individuals with depression/illnesses/anxiety.
"Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression," says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA.
Depression affects millions of individuals in the USA alone. A lot of people reading this suffer from some form or know someone who does. A pet might not be right for everyone, so don't just show up with a pet one day for someone you know with depression.
The first thought that enters many heads is "I can barely take care of myself, a pet would be a mistake." Well, with great pets, comes great responsibility. Depression studies have shown responsibility promotes mental health. "Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance," says Cook. It will remind you that you are capable -- that you can do more than you might think." You still may be arguing that you can't even get out of bed or off the couch, well that won't fly (unless you get a bird, in which case let it fly around). Pets add routine to your life, you want be able to stay in bed till 2 pm or lay on the couch till 11:30, pets have a schedule and they will help you schedule your life again. You'll have to get up to feed them, let them out, play with them, walk them, feed them again. Pets get you off your butt and moving again.
Depression has a strongest weapon, and that weapon is isolation. It will pull you back from your friends and family, you'll dodge calls/texts/snapchats/IM all of it. Leaving you to question all your thoughts alone, that is when depression strikes hardest. Pets offer the opposite of isolation, they bring companionship. A dog will never leave you alone, in a good way. My dogs run up to me all day throwing toys at me, laying on me, whine until I pick them up. I'm never alone, and I love my pets for that. I have woken up at 3 am to one of my dogs throwing a football at my head, meaning its play time now. Having a pet means you're never alone, even when you shut the door to go to the bathroom in peace, your pet will barge in "You watch me go, why can't I watch you go?"
Pets give us routine, keeping us active, dogs have the added benefit of being brought on walks, or to dog parks. This exercise of taking your pet out promotes physical activity which in turn promotes mental and physical health. Walks help you lose weight, get you out of your depressing house which you've been cooped up in for far too long and also lets your pet relieve themselves with no shame. Say you're walking your dog or bring them to the dog park, well there's a good chance someone's going to come up to you to ask to pet your dog or ask what kind of breed they are, your dog will encourage you to interact socially. You may be shy or anxious or still feel alone, but guaranteed your dog will get attention and thus bring the interaction to you. So long isolation, hello social butterfly wonder dog. You may hate talking about yourself or not care what others say but pet owners love talking about their pets like children, and it's safe to say if you have a pet you like pets in general, so you'll go ahead and converse about them. Let your pet shine.
If I'm not petting one dog I'm petting the other, if I'm not scratching a friends cat behind the ears them I'm scratching another. Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Petting a cat and listening to them purr soothes you, rubbing your dogs belly and watching their leg kick also relaxes you. You're no longer sitting in the house just lying there, you have someone to touch, to talk to, to interact with.
Finally, there's laughter, endless laughter. Depressions got you down well your pet with 100% certainty will make you laugh. I've had my dogs fart on me when I've gone to pick them up and the sound scares them so they run away, one of them fell off my bed in the middle of the night while dreaming and got right back up with his tail wagging like it was the best dream ever. Depression makes you think about everything that has gone wrong and everything that can go wrong over and over again until you can take it no more. These little moments with pets that make you laugh make a world of difference. You may laugh as your cat chases a laser pointer around your house trying to catch the blasted red dot, or as they randomly fall asleep anywhere they like, like upside down on top of a loaf of a bread, the point being that though they are pets they have more empathy than we could ever dream.
The hardest step is getting up and seeking help and once you do that, take your pet for a walk or pet them, anything to get your mind on track a little more. Pets may not cure depression, but they certainly can help calm you.
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