For those living with a mental disorder, there’s a constant struggle to find healthy, natural ways to cope with life’s daily challenges. While mankind has known for hundreds of years that, for most people, the presence of a dog is a mood booster, we’re now learning that they can be so much more. Whether you take on a dog as a constant companion or interact sporadically with dogs in a therapy setting, man’s best friend can be an incredibly valuable tool in helping those with mental issues.
ADHD expert Ned Hallowell, M.D. echoes this advice for children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. “I often urge people to start with a dog. Dogs are the world’s best givers of love. I’ve never met a dog I couldn’t love and who couldn’t love me back. Dogs don’t fake it and don’t ask for anything in return.” “The force of connection, however you find it, is the most powerful force of healing that we have.”
Remedy for isolation
As NPR notes, “People with mental illnesses often see their social groups shrink and find themselves alienated from their friends.” Sometimes this is due to the stigma associated with their illness, and often it is by choice. It’s nobody’s fault, but those with mental disorders are more likely to suffer negative mental health effects due to loneliness and isolation. Dogs provide constant companionship without any hint of judgment.
Way to boost self-esteem
Dogs love their owners no matter what, and for those with mental disorders, that unconditional love can be just as effective as if it were given by a human. Not only that, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness cites research that says caring for a dog can help boost esteem by giving those with mental illness a task and a purpose. Those with mental disorders can find a confidence boost in the fact that they can take care of something.
Way to fight stress and anxiety
Anecdotally, dogs are known to have a calming effect on their owners. Scientifically, recent studies by the CDC have suggested that caring for a dog is associated with lower instances of anxiety—especially in children. People with mental disorders—from PTSD to autism—are way more likely to experience levels of stress and anxiety that they have a hard time managing. This stress can exacerbate their condition. While the presence of any calm, well-behaved dog is likely to have a positive effect, those with serious mental conditions may want to look into specifically trained emotional service dogs.
Way to stimulate social interaction
It’s generally accepted among mental health professionals that social interaction is a major key to happiness and overall well-being in all humans but even more important in those who suffer from a mental disorder (like we mentioned earlier, isolation is more prevalent among this group).
Dogs are a perfect tool for stimulating social interaction. Dogs need to be walked. They need to play at the dog park with other dogs. Dogs come with owners, and those owners are forced to communicate. This sort of lower-stress interaction can help improve mental health. For those dealing with mental illness, owning a dog is not always an option. One way to get to experience the positive benefits of dogs without the burden of too much responsibility is to get into dog walking.
Unavoidable impetus to get out and get active
Your dog needs daily exercise—any dog does. Not only that, but dogs thrive in open-air, natural settings. Dogs can give those with mental disorders the push they need to get out and get some exercise and fresh air. The benefits of exercise stretch far beyond toned abs and buff muscles. Physical exercise is a key component of mental health. By stimulating your brain and releasing chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, you’re doing what you can to make yourself happy, and staving off feelings of depression.
By helping those with mental disorders feel less alone, not judged, loved unconditionally, and relaxed, dogs are one of the best tools on the planet for dealing with a wide range of difficult conditions.
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About the author: Brandon Butler is a dog lover and vet tech. He loves helping pet owners by sharing advice on FurandFeathers.info. He enjoys writing about pet care and sharing the knowledge he’s gained as a vet tech.