Can Pets Cure Depression?
Article by Lauren Bate (diaryofaspanglishgirl.com)
Disclaimer: If you are in a dark place, we urge you to seek medical assistance, and urgently. This is not a sign of weakness, nor a sign of defeat. It’s a sign of strength and new beginnings. Reach out, you are not alone.
Depression and mental illness is a widespread issue across the UK, affecting 1 in 4 people, each year. It’s time we broke down the stigma, talked about it and addressed how much our pets do for us, not only in day to day life but maintaining our mental health.
The world can be a dark and lonely place once you find yourself in the spiral of depression. Every little thing that was once joyful, is sucked and the point and direction is lost. Every day felt pointless. Lost in the direction of my own cascading mind. Thoughts would pile up and up. I left work, I couldn’t face it anymore. A job I loved. Every day was a battle and I was the one losing.
My dog saved my mindset. My Cavalier King Charles Spaniels changed me and the way I viewed life in general. I know it might sound bizarre to non-dog owners because they didn’t save my life in a heroic accident, neither did they fight off intruders into my house. But, they saved me from my own mind that was putting me down, and in my eyes, that’s the most heroic act of all. The ability to pull somebody from the darkness, the ability to give them the purpose to fight, that is sheer heroism.
Because of my cavaliers, Marley and Rio, I’m in a happy and stable mindset, running my own blog, managing social media accounts, teaching classes and being the best version of myself. I have things to look forward to, I have a purpose. They shaped me into a better person. Somebody who doesn’t hide in their bedroom with the curtains drawn, somebody who doesn’t dread going to work. They pulled me from the pit of self deprivation.
Dogs are known to increase your mood, it’s hard to feel anything but love when you’re cuddling up to your dog in bed, or the daily walks in the sunshine that they drag you on boost your mood, let alone the look they give you when they are laying down looking at you before they fall asleep. They make us their world.
My story starts long before the cavaliers arrived, after a series of horrendous breakups and a job that was starting to feel so monotonous. I wanted out. Every day I went through the motions, I lumped myself in to work and then back out of it again. The repetition of it all was guiding me gently, yet obviously, into a depressive state. I had and still have a loving boyfriend, a supportive family and things to look forward to. I was working alongside autistic children, supporting their educational development, my job was fulfilling. Or it should have been.
I felt sad. I cried. I felt lost. But, I didn’t want to disappear. I didn’t want to become collateral damage to my own mind. I was looking for a purpose.
The cavaliers were the start of my journey to healing. After laying on eyes on Marley and Rio, the polar opposites of the same breed, I loved them from the day I got them. Rio being clumsy and daft yet all so loveable and Marley, the overthinker and assessor, a lot like myself in many ways, Even though they’re not the little puppies they once were, I still hold them like the babies they are to me. Protected and surrounded by love.
I remember holding Rio and feeling fear. I was worried that it was me who was to take care of him. How could I take care of him when some days I couldn’t even take care of myself? What about the stress of raising a puppy? He was relying on me and he needed me.
When I got my dogs, my life truly transformed. It may sound cliche or an exaggeration, but it’s true. This beautiful innocent living thing was relying on me, I had to take care of myself to take care of him. His innocent eyes would look up to mine as his tail would begin to wag and I knew I was his entire world. I had to put him first.
For someone who skipped breakfast every morning, that doesn’t happen anymore. It can’t. They wag their little tails and their breakfast is served. Then, it’s off to the local cafe to grab my toast and coffee so they can have a nibble to. He’ll pull me towards the cafe and I know it’s breakfast time. No more excuses of not feeling hunger in the morning. We need it.
There are so many reasons how and why pets have such a huge impact on improving mental health recovery and I wanted to highlight some of them today. When you’re suffering, you often feel alone. Yet, having a pet shifts that. Even though the people you love are offering support, you know they can take care of themselves, your pet is a different story. You can’t be alone with a pet and just knowing that brings so much comfort.
If you’re considering getting a pet, here are some of the ways pets can help you improve your mental health:
Needless to say, pets push you to lead a healthier lifestyle. They need their daily, or tri-daily, walk and they will make it very well known. Taking your dog on walks and runs around the park increases endorphins which fights back against depression and mental health episodes. Having a healthier more active lifestyle can reduce stress levels and encourage better sleep.
No matter what, our dogs are just happy to be by us. They don’t care if we’re rich or poor, they don’t care if we’re sitting on the bathroom floor or in a comfy bed, they just want to be with us. That happiness brings us happiness. Pets remind us daily that we are everything to them. That wagging tail when you come home from a day at work, the licks that wake you up in the morning or the happiness when we’re playing with them. They remind us that we make their life better, just by existing.
Who knew you’d make so many friends just by having a lead and a cute puppy on the end of it? My dog is beautiful, happy, friendly, I notice it and so do many others. Rio has this habit of taking a toy out wherever he goes. Whether that’s for his morning walk or heading to the cafe. He runs and collects a toy and he looks undeniably cute. The amount of strangers that come up and chat to us in the morning to stroke Rio, or the dog owner friends we’ve made. Our dogs are a conversation starter and break the ice and conversational barriers. Sometimes, to make us feel better all we need is for someone to notice us. Someone to start a conversation and ask how we are. Dogs do that.
Professionals say that self-esteem and self-worth is dramatically improved by taking ownership and applying skills to a task. Just like when you have a long to-do list and you start ticking them off, owning a dog takes great skill. Seeing how happy your dog is, maintaining his personal care and keeping him safe is one of the greatest skills you can have. Taking care of a healthy dog shows that if you can take care of him, you can take responsibility for yourself.
Providing Sensory Stress Relief
Stroking a pet can lower blood pressure and help you feel calmer and less relaxed through sensory stress relief. Just like when you were younger and you’d reach for your favourite teddy or your cuddle blanket, your pet works in the same way. Warming like a hot water bottle and soft like a teddy, they provide an instant mood booster.
Don’t forget, a pet is not a miracle cure. Owning and loving a pet is massively beneficial for those who love and appreciate domestic animals and have the time and money to keep them happy and healthy. It’s important to assess everything that comes with owning a pet for their entire lifespan, which sadly will not be as long as our own.
Dogs and pets alike can help with mental health, but they are not the only aspect. You have to want to help yourself and reach out for support. Don’t get a dog just because you need them, they need the same love and affection that they give out, so make sure you are ready to be their all.