The Undeniable Connection Between Dogs and Mental Wellbeing
People the world over are facing a perplexing predicament. As Antioch University documents, mental health issues are on the rise across the board. The confounding aspect of this problem is that while these mental health issues rise, resources to correct mental health problems are increasingly rare. Therapy and medications must be considered as aides to our mental health struggles, but for some these may be too expensive or impractical for other reasons. One step that most can take to help aid their mental health, however, is to get a dog.
How Widespread is the Problem?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness makes it clear just how widespread mental health disorders have become. It’s estimated that 1 in every 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness each year. The same rate applies to youth aged 13-18. It’s clear, mental health is under siege, and the consequences of untreated mental health are massive.
Severe depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses often carry the cost of lost jobs and careers gone unfulfilled. The total of lost earnings due to mental health are approximately $193.2 billion. Mental Health America also reveals some alarming statistics about the state of mental health in America.
It’s estimated that 56% of adults in America have not received treatment for a mental illness. Making this issue worse is the statistic that only 1 in 1,000 professionals specialize in treating mental disorders. Most concerning is the rise in mental health disorders among the youth. In 2011, 8.5% of youth were found to have depression. That rate was 11.1% only three years later. All of these stats aren’t meant to scare. They’re only meant to make it clear how important finding cures or aides for our mental wellbeing are.
If You’re Suffering, Consider a Dog
Dogs provide their owners so many things. They are constant companions that add joy to otherwise boring exercise and often compel us to socialize with other dog owners. But dogs’ greatest asset to humans may be their ability to help those suffering from mental health disorders.
The British Journal of Health Psychology lets us know how dogs can benefit our physical health. Dogs have been shown to help prevent us from becoming sick, provide early warnings for major health problems, and make us more likely to recover. But many physical ailments arise from chronic mental deficits, so dogs’ boosts to our mental wellbeing are as notable as these physical perks.
The American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that for those suffering from serious mental illness, owning a pet makes them more likely to socialize. The American Psychological Association’s PsycNet explains how pets help those in recovery from mental illness, as well as addiction. They help their owners provide empathy to others. Pets can help these people re-establish social connections and activities that may have been lost due to initial sobriety or mental suffering. And, they serve as companions while providing a sense of responsibility and self-efficacy for their owners.
Each of these benefits are critical to those who are prone to anxiety, depression, addiction, or other disorders related to mental health. The elderly, too – who may be prone to depression due to the degradation of their bodies and minds – should engage in interaction with dogs. Even if they cannot handle the responsibility of ownership, it’s been proven that interaction with pets improve cognitive function and symptoms of depression.
Lassie, Old Yeller, and Air Bud are all inspirational stories. Stories – true and fictional – of dogs’ inspiration and loyalty to humans make for great entertainment. But the more truthful, serious fact about dogs is that they can, in many cases, be the difference between life and death. Mental illness often brings with it irrevocable consequences including suicide, and loneliness and mental illness go hand-in-hand. Dogs, whether you choose to own or merely interact with them, can be the source of companionship and love that so many with mental disorders yearn for and need.