Anyone with a pet will tell you that their companion animal is a member of the family. We love them like our own children and appreciate the laughter and love they bring to our lives. For people with mental illness or addiction issues, a pet can be life-changing -- for the better. Having a pet can make a huge difference in the lives and wellness of people who struggle with mental illnesses.
The difference pets can make is huge. One study found that, “pets constituted a valuable source of illness work in managing feelings through distraction from symptoms and upsetting experiences, and provided a form of encouragement for activity.” One study participant was quoted in an article on NPR: "When I'm feeling really low they are wonderful because they won't leave my side for two days. They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it."
In the study, 60 percent of the people who considered pets to be a part of their social networks placed them their most important circle, the same place many people put close family. That shows the importance people put on their pets. "The routine these pets provide is really important for people," says Helen Brooks, the study’s author to NPR. "Getting up in the morning to feed them and groom them and walk them, giving them structure and a sense of purpose that they won't otherwise have."
Pets, especially dogs, can have a motivational effect on people with mental issues. Having a dog forces you to get out of bed and take him for a walk, which will also leads to socializing with other dog owners. The social benefits are good, especially for people with depression and anxiety. For people who struggle to make friends, pets serve as a point of connection for many.
Another way that pets can help is through exercise. Exercise has been shown to help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as help those in addiction recovery stay sober. Having a dog itching to go on a walk is a good motivator toward exercise. Once you’ve walked, you feel better, and your dog is nice and tired, and ready to cuddle. Bonus!
For people with addiction issues, pets can also be a motivator to get through the tough times. If a person is depressed or feels like their life doesn’t matter, a pet who loves that person unconditionally will show that it does. Our pets give us love no matter how badly we’ve behaved in the past.
Often, people with severe mental illness or addiction find themselves isolated from family and friends, so having a pet can ward off the loneliness and sense of isolation they feel. For people with suicidal thoughts, pets can give them a reason to keep going, if only to care for their pets. Sometimes, it takes a pet to remind us that we are people who deserve affection and caring.
Just taking care of a pet can give a person with substance abuse disorder or mental illness a feeling of accomplishment, which helps boost self-esteem. For people with serious self-esteem issues, that little boost can make a world of difference.
If you’re struggling with a mental illness or addiction recovery, a pet can help you get through it. Just beware that getting a pet is a serious commitment and isn’t always easy at first. But once you have a pet that is a permanent part of your life, the joy and love you get from him will all be worth it.