Pet ownership may not be beneficial for mental health of people with serious mental illness

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Researchers say living with and forming close bonds with companion animals does not necessarily lead to significant improvements in mental health in people with severe mental illness.

A study conducted by the University of York found that living with animals such as dogs, cats, fish and birds improved well-being and reduced depression, anxiety and loneliness in owners with severe mental illness. It turned out that it never happened. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia compared to people living without animals.

The researchers followed up on an earlier study conducted in 2021 to examine aspects of animal ownership and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their findings, they say, undermine the increasingly strong belief that animals promote mental health and well-being in all situations.

In a survey of 170 UK participants with severe mental illness, 81 reported having at least one animal, and more than 95% said their animal became a partner in their lives. reported being a source of consistency and feeling loved.

Dogs and cats were reported as the most frequently kept pets, consistent with the general population. The majority of participants felt a strong bond with animals.

However, the study did not find statistically significant improvements in mental health or loneliness compared to people with severe mental illness who did not own animals.

In a 2021 study using the same cohort of participants, the research team found that owning animals actually led to a decline in self-reported mental health in people with severe mental illness that may be due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic. found to be associated with And the challenge of taking care of animals in lockdown.

While we now increasingly think that companion animals are beneficial to the mental health of all owners in most or all situations, this may not be the case.

The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to consider this question in more detail. And while many participants with severe mental illness reported that their animals were a ‘lifeline’ during this period, the added stress may have outweighed the benefits. I understand. And the anxiety caused by caring for animals in lockdown.

These new data were collected after pandemic restrictions were lifted, and although there was some improvement in terms of reported health outcomes since the last survey, animal ownership was associated with improved health outcomes. , was not found to be significantly associated with depression, anxiety, or loneliness. “

Dr Emily Shoesmith, School of Health Sciences, University of York

Nonetheless, most participants perceived a strong human-animal bond with their closest companion animal and reported that their animal provided them with a source of companionship and life security. Did.

Researchers say companion animals may still be an important part of the social networks of people diagnosed with severe mental illness, but more research is needed to understand the nuances of that relationship. points out that it is necessary. Like any other external factor that can cause further stress, it brings change.

“One possible explanation for our current findings is that the added responsibilities of caring for animals is an additional burden experienced by people living with severe mental illness,” said Elena Rushen, Ph.D. It could be that it can exacerbate potential stressors in the population, including: Anxiety about food costs, veterinary costs, and housing.

“The results of this study suggest that the nature of human-animal interactions is complex. Very important.

“But it is not necessarily rational to think of it as a means of ameliorating the symptoms of serious mental illness or of dispersing the loneliness of the most disadvantaged people with these disorders.”

This study was published in the CABI journal human-animal interactionstated that it would be beneficial for future studies to employ larger sample sizes and compare wider variations of the species identified as the animal with which participants felt closest.

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