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Power Of Pets: Companion Animals A Major Source Of Support For People With Mental Health Problems

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A new study shows that pets can provide valuable support and benefits to their humans, especially for those living with mental health problems.

Results show that perhaps it's time to consider pets as a major source of support in the long-term management of mental health issues.

Animal Companionship

There are pros and cons to pet ownership but for many pet owners, the pros largely outweigh the cons. Researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Southampton reviewed just exactly what kind of benefits companion animals can give, especially among pet owners who are dealing with long-term mental health problems.

Researchers reviewed the studies, which looked at the relationship between the management of diagnosable mental illness and pet ownership, from the earliest published until March of 2017. A total of 17 studies with 1,727 participants were included in the review wherein they were able to illuminate the pros and cons of pet ownership.

The Power Of Pets

The negative elements of pet ownership are said to be "largely overshadowed" by the co-occurring positive impacts. Naturally, the negative aspects of pet ownership include the practical and emotional burdens that come with it, particularly when it comes to the psychological impact of losing a pet.

However, the review also revealed the intensiveness of connection that pet owners have with their pets. Four recurring themes were observed among the pet owners' responses: emotional work, practical work, biographical work, and social interaction.

Emotional work describes how the pets provide comfort and alleviate the worry of their owners while practical work pertains to the actual physical work pet owners have to do for their pets, thereby distracting them from symptoms. Pets also served as emotional conduits for their owners, which alleviated their feelings of loneliness, and the animal companions also provide their owners with feelings of self-worth and identity.

Safe Environment

Furthermore, researchers provided examples of how pets have helped their owners by including excerpts from past interviews. For instance, one such quotation exhibited how pets provide their humans with a safe environment to express their emotions and communicate without fear of being judged.

"They don't have input, "this is what you should do, or maybe you should try this" or all the other commentary I get from people, who are trying to be helpful in their own right...their dying devotion and love, it's true friendship."

While researchers state that further research is needed to truly understand the nature of the relationship between pets and their owners, the results of their review suggest that pets do, in fact, provide benefits to people living with a mental health problem.

The study is published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

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