May is National Pet & Mental Health Awareness Month Working Together

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In recent news, the departments of Animals Services and Mental Health in Riverside County, California, are partnering to provide animal-assisted therapy for mental health while promoting pet adoptions.

May is a special month that holds importance for two reasons – it is National Pet Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month. While these two observances may seem unrelated, increasing evidence demonstrates how beneficial animals can be for our mental wellness.

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Mental health professionals and leading experts on animal-assisted therapy have seen the benefits a pet can bring to a patient’s mental wellbeing. “The special bond you have with your dog can help provide emotional support for managing mental health symptoms,” said Prairie Conlon, LCMHC, LPC, NCC, and Clinical Director of CertaPet to the Scope Weekly.

Pets, especially dogs and cats, have long been known to provide companionship and relieve loneliness. However, studies have shown that pets also have a measurable impact on our overall mental health, helping to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

One of the critical benefits of pet ownership is the emotional support they provide. Spending time with a pet can help regulate emotions, improve mood, and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness. Pets can also help individuals develop a sense of purpose and responsibility, contributing to a greater understanding of self-worth and self-esteem.

In particular, therapy dogs, who are specially trained to provide comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes, and other settings, have shown tremendous benefits in reducing patient stress and anxiety. It is not just physical health that can benefit from therapy dogs: they also help individuals cope with the emotional toll of chronic illness, loss, loneliness, and anxiety.

Research indicates that pets promote positive social interaction and communication and improve our ability to connect with others. For people with mental health conditions such as anxiety and social phobias, pets can provide a non-judgmental way to communicate with others, primarily through pet therapy programs. Additionally, pets can help individuals with autism improve social skills and provide emotional support.

The benefits of having a pet transcend age, gender, and cultural boundaries. Studies have shown that pet ownership can help children develop empathy, compassion, and self-esteem. For seniors, pets can offer companionship, create a sense of purpose and responsibility, and ensure that seniors remain active in their daily routines.

Pets can also have positive impacts on physical health. For example, research has revealed that walking a dog regularly can lead to increased physical activity, providing health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, increased bone density, reduced obesity, and improved overall health. By promoting physical activity, pet ownership can also help to reduce the risk of chronic illness.

In honor of National Pet Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month, communities nationwide are using pets to help spread awareness about the benefits of animal companionship for mental wellness. You can find various events taking place, including animal adoption fairs, seminars, and information sessions about the benefits of pet ownership.

Overall, the benefits of pet ownership are too great to ignore. Even in difficult times, such as the present, pets continue to provide a source of comfort, relief, and companionship. For those who may struggle with anxiety, stress, or depression, a furry companion may be the key to unlocking a better quality of life. So, this May, take a moment to celebrate your pet and its impact on your life or consider adopting a new best friend to experience the many benefits of pet ownership.

Conlon said, “Dogs require a routine of getting up in the morning to go outside and care for them. When battling depression, simply leaving the house can boost your mood, and exercising has proven to be an excellent way to combat depressive symptoms. Anxiety can become overwhelming to the point of constant worry and inability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Dogs provide a healthy distraction and focal point as they often demand attention through play and affection. This often creates enough distraction to redirect thoughts and stop the vicious cycle of worry.”

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