The study found that the consistent presence and close physical proximity of their pets can provide an immediate source of calm and therapeutic benefit for people with mental health conditions.
“The people we spoke to through the course of this study felt their pet played a range of positive roles such as helping them to manage stigma associated with their mental health by providing acceptance without judgement,” said lead author Helen Brooks from University of Manchester in Britain.
For 60 per cent of study participants, pets played a central role in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem.
“Pets were also considered particularly useful during times of crisis. Pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which they were often not receiving from other family or social relationships,” Brooks added.
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According to the participants, one reason for this was that their pet helped by distracting them from symptoms and upsetting experiences such as hearing voices or suicidal thoughts.
Participants from the study were quoted as saying: “I felt in a sense that my cat was familiar, in that he understood or was an extension of my thoughts.”
However, despite the identified benefits of pet ownership, pets were neither considered nor incorporated into the individual care plans for people with mental conditions, the researchers said, suggesting that pets should be considered a main source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems.
For the research, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, the team interviewed 54 participants, aged 18 and above, who were under the care of community-based mental health services and had been diagnosed with a severe mental illness.
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