Mental health is, thankfully, becoming something we are all much better at talking about and, as a result, millions of people are seeking and sharing personal experiences and solutions to a wide range of problems. While professional support is important for many issues there are also things that can be used to support treatment and also things that people may choose to use instead. One of these other methods comes in the form of our amazing four legged friends, yes that’s right, dogs can really help with mental health issues and here is why!
On a very basic level having a dog means you have a friend and one that is highly loyal and will never be horrible to you or let you down. Whilst they may be a bit naughty on the odd occasion we all know they don’t mean it and it’s a far cry from being let down by a friend for example. As humans we all need companionship, just the act of caring for a dog can stimulate feelings of being needed and wanted which can help combat depression. Loneliness can be a very big factor in anxiety and depression and studies have shown dog owners are less likely to suffer with these issues. Not only can a dog help prevent negative emotions, the act of being a dog owner may also help owners socialize. Saying hello to someone on a dog walk can help build confidence and have a big impact on feelings of being alone.
Anxiety and Depression
If someone already has anxiety issues for example, the simple act of stroking and cuddling a dog can help lower stress levels and make the condition more manageable. Even during panic attacks knowing a dog is there can be a big help. Dogs are also great for motivation. People suffering from depression may find it very hard to leave the house but owning a dog can be a strong factor in helping them take a step outside. Completing a walk can be an achievement; giving the day some purpose.
Psychotherapist Mark Vahrmeyer said “Dogs can play a number of roles in mental health. They certainly have a therapeutic affect on many people suffering from mental health conditions, provided they like dogs that is!”
One thing all dog owners have to do is walk their dogs. While some people could choose to pay a dog walker, those with mental health issues and those who want to stay healthy should use the chance to share exercise time with their dogs. Physical activity is well known as something that can help prevent and treat mental health issues like anxiety and depression. The boost a good walk can give is very important, but it also releases hormones that can improve mood and reduce stress levels. Jogging can be great, but often people may not feel confident enough to start running. However, walking a dog is simple, stress free, and it isn’t something that needs training. Not only do you get a good walk, you also get to share the pleasure your dog gets on the walk, too!
While dogs can certainly play a big role in managing mental health issues they can also help prevent them. Someone may not have any issues at all but there is no doubt being a dog owner gives you a better chance of not developing problems. It isn’t just mental health, some reports suggest dog owners have lower blood pressure during stressful events and even lower cholesterol than people without pets. Cuddling and playing with a dog can stimulate the release of serotonin and dopamine, these two hormones make us feel good and help us become relaxed. The by product of regular production of these hormones can help keep people’s mind healthy and avoid mental heath issues.
Owning a Dog
Whether you are already a dog owner or you are reading this and thinking about getting a dog there is no doubt inviting one or more canine pals into your home is good for you. They can certainly help keep you healthy and perhaps help you be less susceptible to mental health issues but they can also help those who are already suffering too. It is, however, also critically important that you consider the health of you’re the dog too. It is a two way street, they need cuddles as much as we do, they need exercise, love, good food and a safe place to live too in order for them to be mentally and physically healthy too.