Pets as part of long term treatment for serious mental illness

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Could a dog help in the treatment of people with serious mental illness? A study shows that pets are particularly helpful during long term treatment. So much so, that researchers believe they should be incorporated into care plans for people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Researchers interviewed 54 people with serious mental illnesses to see how they self-managed in their everyday lives. The results were published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. Twenty five of those interviewed included their pets as a key part of their “social network,” which includes social workers and close family members.

The lead author of the study reported that “"many felt deep emotional connections with their pet that weren't available from friends and family." Having a mental illness can be very isolating -and the experience of mental illness can be difficult to communicate. Pets don’t judge and they provide routine and keep patients connected to the outside world.  Some patients credited their pets with preventing them from following through on suicidal thinking, because they know that their animals depend on them. 

Therapy animals are becoming more widely used-- but they’re still expensive and not everyone has access. The study brings attention to the how important pets can be in the long term treatment of mental illness- and concludes that they should be a main source of support from mental health services.

For people coping with the pain of mental illness, animals can offer serious help.

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