New Study Proves Pets Should Be Taken Seriously as Mental Illness Aids

Posted by Paige Cerulli

A new study provides scientific proof that pets are powerful mental illness aids. 

There's good news for anyone who has an emotional support animal: According to scientists, pets should be taken seriously as mental illness aids. A new study published in BMC Psychiatry examines the effectiveness of pets in helping owners with mental illness, and its results are intriguing.

During the study, researchers interviewed 54 participants in England. Participants had all been diagnosed with long-term mental illness, and researchers asked questions designed to gather information about the participants' daily life with mental illness, as well as the role that pets played in the participants' lives. Participants had at least one pet in their lives, and the pets included dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

Tabby cat enjoying cuddling in old man's lap

Study participants were asked to rate which aspects of their life helped them to manage their mental illness. Sixty percent of the participants listed their pets as being highly important to managing their mental illness, placing their pets in a "first circle" of support. Another 20 percent of participants listed their pets in the next "second circle."

Scientists further interviewed the participants about what specific ways pets helped with mental illness. Participants referenced factors such as how pets provide distraction from symptoms, force owners to maintain a routine, encourage physical activity, and more.

We all know that pets can be powerful in helping children with autism, in providing physical support and service, and even in alerting people to medical issues, such as seizures. And then there's therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted learning, both of which have greatly gained popularity over the past 20 years or so.

But pets as mental illness support is a topic which has been largely ignored by research. There are few published studies examining the effects that pets can have in managing mental illness, and emotional support pets are a highly controversial topic because of the confusion between emotional support and service animals.

This new study could forge the way for additional, expanded research. And that could mean great things for people coping with mental illnesses in the future.

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New Study Proves Pets Should Be Taken Seriously as Mental Illness Aids