Adopting a Pet can Help Your Mental Health, But is It Enough?
Mental health is vital at every stage of life—from adolescence through adulthood—but finding healthy ways to cope with a mental health disorder isn’t always easy. According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental illnesses affect millions of people each year in the United States. Still, only half of those with mental health conditions seek treatment.
To cope with loneliness and isolation over the past year, many pet parents adopted four-legged friends, with animal organizations in the United States, finding new homes for nearly 900,000 pets. Although many pet parents adopted four-legged friends over the last year to cope with isolation and loneliness, it’s essential to keep in mind that pet adoption isn’t a substitute for therapy.
If you’re thinking about adopting a furry friend, here’s everything you need to know to take care of your mental health.
Mental Health Benefits of Adopting a Pet
Pet adoption is associated with many mental and physical health benefits, from weight loss to lower stress levels. According to one study, pet owners are less likely to experience depression symptoms, including loneliness, as pets provide a sense of purpose. Another study found that strong attachment to a pet was associated with lower depression rates among older adults.
Research also shows that pet ownership is associated with lower anxiety levels. Although anxiety disorders can make everyday tasks feel overwhelming, adopting a pet can help reduce anxiety symptoms by producing oxytocin (the “feel good” hormone). Studies have also shown that dog ownership helps reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), helping individuals with PTSD live more fulfilling lives.
Other Treatment Options for Mental Health Concerns
Although pet adoption can have wide-ranging benefits for individuals with mental health conditions, it’s not for everyone. Pet ownership can help alleviate mild symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders, but if you’re experiencing a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or substance use, consider seeking professional mental health services. The following treatment options can help you live a happier, more productive life.
- Therapy. Whether you have a diagnosed mental disorder or you’re experiencing new mental health symptoms, working with a licensed therapist can help you start feeling better. Therapy provides a safe space to navigate your mental health problems, express your feelings, and learn healthy ways to cope in daily life. If you’re unsure how to get started, consider asking your clinician for a referral or using an online therapy platform.
- Social support. Social support is integral to good mental health, and opening up to your friends and family members about your mental health concerns can help you cope with stressful situations. Social support is critical when you’re navigating a challenging situation or experiencing feelings of loneliness.
- Support groups. Joining a support group provides a unique opportunity to connect with other people in similar situations. Especially for individuals with substance use disorder and PTSD, support groups can be a valuable component of a successful treatment plan, according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers various support group resources, including NAMI Family and NAMI Basics.
- Lifestyle changes. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can help reduce the severity of mental health symptoms, lower your risk factors for mental illness, and contribute to mental wellness, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Helplines. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.
While pet ownership can contribute to positive mental health, it’s not a substitute for therapy. If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms, reaching out for professional help is the first step toward feeling better.
To get started, reach out to a mental health professional through The Therapy Group of DC. We know that reaching out for help can feel intimidating, and our compassionate, experienced therapists are here to help you every step of the way. Whether you’re starting therapy for the first time or searching for a new therapist, one of our licensed therapists will help you work toward mental wellness with personalized, data-driven treatment.