Washington D.C.: The unconditional love and support of pet provides an immediate source of calm and therapeutic benefits for owners with long-term mental health conditions, says a new study.
The findings were published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry. Researchers from the University of Manchester suggested that pets should be considered as main source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems.
"The people we spoke to, through the course of this study, felt their pet played a range of positive roles such as helping them to manage stigma associated with their mental health by providing acceptance without judgement," said lead study author Dr Helen Brooks from the University of Manchester.
"Pets were also considered particularly useful during times of crisis. In this way, pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which they were often not receiving from other family or social relationships. 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," Brooks added.
The team interviewed 54 participants, aged 18 and above, who were under the care of community-based mental health services and had been diagnosed with a severe mental illness.
The participants were asked to rate the importance of members of their personal network including friends, family, health professionals, pets, hobbies, places, activities and objects, by placing them in a diagram of three concentric circles.
Anything placed in the central circle was considered most important; the middle circle was of secondary importance and the outer circle was for those considered of lesser importance.
The pets played an important role in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem, as 60 percent placed their pet in the central most important circle and 20 percent placed their pet in the second circle.
The participants stated that their pet helped by distracting them from symptoms and upsetting experiences such as hearing voices or suicidal thoughts.
"These insights provide the mental health community with possible areas to target intervention and potential ways in which to better involve people in their own mental health service provision through open discussion of what works best for them," Brooks explained.