There is no doubt among pet owners that our furry, feathered, and finned friends do wonders for our well-being.
A recent study published in the BMC Psychiatry Journal found that the affection and closeness of companion animals reduced suicidal thoughts for sufferers of mental illness.
University of Manchester researcher Helen Brooks, Ph.D. interviewed 54 adults undergoing treatment for severe mental illness. Study participants were asked to rank the people and things in their lives - friends, family, doctors, hobbies, pets, etc. - according to their level of importance: high, middle, or low.
For 60% of participants, pets ranked most important, and another 20% of participants ranked their pets of medium importance. A number of study participants stated that their pets provided a welcome distraction from symptoms and experiences of their illnesses, such as hearing voices or having suicidal thoughts.
"Despite the identified benefits of pet ownership, pets were neither considered nor incorporated into the individual care plans for any of the people in our study," says Brooks.
Considering how significantly pets figured into the lives of the participants, this study indicates a need for new and creative approaches to treating mental illness, approaches that incorporate companion animals into the care plans of affected individuals.
According to Brooks, the consistency and closeness a pet provides were cited as the most important factors that determined how participants ranked their pets' levels of importance.
"As an owner of two dogs myself, I could certainly identify with a lot of the benefits people talked about but I was surprised by the depth and range of roles animals played too," Brooks said.
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