We all know that having a pet is good for us physically and emotionally. But did you know that it can also be good for our mental health?
In fact, research has shown that pets have been proven to provide many positive benefits to people in general, including those suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
This is not surprising, given the strong evidence that we humans and animals share many similarities. We both need social contact, we both require stimulation, and we both crave affection. As such, it makes sense that pets would provide similar benefits to their owners.
The emotional connection
Pet ownership is associated with higher levels of happiness, which helps explain why pets are often found to be positively correlated with lower rates of depression.
For example, one study showed that dog owners were less likely to suffer from depression, while cat owners were even less likely to experience depressive symptoms. Another study showed that dogs are more likely to reduce feelings of loneliness compared to cats.
Other studies have shown that owning a pet reduces stress and improves mood in patients who suffer from chronic illnesses such as cancer. Pets may even improve well-being in children with developmental disabilities.
Research shows that the presence of a pet can also increase the likelihood of developing a positive outlook on life, and increase empathy and compassion. This could partly be because pets offer unconditional love and companionship, which can help us feel accepted by society and loved by others.
Studies show that the mere presence of a pet can make us happier and more optimistic. A pet might also lead to greater feelings of connectedness, or the ability to relate to others. In essence, pets can help us form stronger relationships with other human beings, and this can have a profound impact on our overall wellbeing.
A better understanding of self
A close relationship with an animal also offers a chance to develop new ideas about ourselves, and how we see the world around us.
One study found that pet owners tended to view themselves differently after interacting with their pets. For example, they were more likely to think of themselves as being “kind” or “lovable”, compared to non-owners. They also felt closer to their own species, and less attached to people.
Another study found that people who owned a cat were more likely to report feeling less lonely, and less depressed. The researchers concluded that this was due to the fact that they developed a deeper understanding of how they felt, and what they needed to feel happy.
Some experts believe that this process takes place through the development of shared experiences between the owner and their pet, which leads to a better understanding of each other’s needs and feelings.
Help with pain management
Pets can also help to manage pain and discomfort. Some people find it difficult to cope with painful situations, especially if they are alone. Having a pet can help them to relax, and feel comforted by the knowledge that their beloved companion will always be there for them.
For example, a 2017 survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that pet owners reported significantly reduced levels of depression when compared to non-pet owners. In addition, research has shown that people who live with pets tend to take longer to recover from surgery, and are less likely to experience post-operative complications.
It stands to reason that a close bond with a pet could also benefit others. One study found that people who owned a dog had higher scores on measures of altruism and empathy, compared to people without a dog.
While some have suggested that pets can act as “therapeutic” pets – helping people to overcome phobias and anxieties – this is debatable. It seems that the most effective benefit of pets comes from the simple fact that they are living creatures, and therefore inherently loving and caring.
So if you’re thinking about getting a pet, don’t forget to consider its mental health benefits too. Not only will your pet give you lots of joy and companionship, but it will also help you to feel better about yourself and the world around you. An ESA Letter can help you in keeping your pet with you almost everywhere.
If you do get a pet, make sure to check out our guide to choosing the right breed for your lifestyle. And if you’d like to learn more, check out these five reasons why you should adopt a pet today.