The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Emotional value of pets is underestimated, expert says

Here’s a good article that addresses a subject I feel strongly about.  I think pets and animal interactions have a major place in maintaining mental health.  Even on my unit, we routinely use therapeutic animals for pet therapy and all of the patients look forward to it and enjoy it.
There has been quite a lot of research done on this subject, but it does not seem to catch on very well.  I know that pets bring concerns such as pet dander, hair, licking, accidents, etc.  But if you are dealing with a patient who has pets at home, bringing an animal in to visit is like giving them a “breath of fresh air”.  What you will see is brighter affect and improvement of mood almost instantaneously.
I know that if I were to be in the hospital for an length of time, I would grieve the loss of companionship I get from my little man, Satchmo.  I can only imagine that it is the same for other pet owners who find themselves locked away from their pets.
Read the article and let me know where you stand on this topic, won’t you?
November 30, 2009 |  1:16 pm

Having a pet can meet many human psychosocial needs and has been undervalued in the field of mental health, says the author of a comprehensive review of human-pet bonds published today in the journal Family Process.

PetsThe research, by Dr. Froma Walsh of the Center for Family Health at the University of Chicago, finds that pets provide stress reduction, companionship, affection, comfort, security and unconditional love to their owners. Having a pet can even confer physical health benefits. For example, heart attack survivors who have pets are likely to live longer if they have a pet. Pets can become so entwined in family dynamics that they are often the source of conflict in divorces. Some women have refused to leave a partner who is abusive if she thinks the pet will be harmed in her absence, Walsh said. Other studies in recent years show that many animals possess a strong ability to connect emotionally with humans and communicate with them, in their own ways, of course. Thus, relationships with pets help people through hard times and provide connectedness in an era when family connections are fragmented.

Mental health professionals, however, often ignore the role of pets when assessing emotional health or relationships, Walsh said. Grief over the loss of a pet, moreover, is trivialized. And people who seem overly attached to their pets are sometimes viewed as strange, dysfunctional or lacking in social skills.

But, Walsh wrote: “As researchers have seriously examined human-animal bonds in their own right their findings suggest that feeling even closer to a pet than to others is not uncommon, and the vast majority of pet lovers are not socially inept or trying to replace their human companions. Most people who connect strongly with animals also have a large capacity for love, empathy and compassion.”

More than 63% of U.S. households — and 75% of households with children — have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. National Pet Owners Survey.

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Michael Chow  /  The Arizona Republic  /  Associated Press

You can read the original article here

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  2. Great article explaining the importance of pets in people lives. I am a vet and I always knew that people get upset when their pets die, but it was not until I listened to a counselling session did I realise how intense the grief can be. I decieded to do what I could to help, so I set up a website to promote the use of special pet loss cousellors.

    Comment by Michael O'Donoghue | December 2, 2009 | Reply

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