A recent study, published in BMC Psychiatry in Manchester, Britain, suggested that pets may provide unconditional support to patients suffering from mental illnesses. The paper was published on 9, December, 2016, titled as the, ‘Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition’.
Though people are aware of the benefits of pet keeping, there is very little knowledge available on the importance of pet parenting during the diagnosis and prognosis of mental illnesses. This study aims to throw some light on the support that pets provide to patients with mental illnesses. The research was conducted on 54 participants in North West and South of England, with ongoing mental problems. Through a semi structured interview patients were asked questions about their mental illness and the treatment they have been receiving. They were also asked questions about their relationship with their pets and the kind of social support they receive from their pets.
The participants were asked to rate the importance of members of their personal network including friends, family, health professionals, pets, hobbies, places, activities and objects, by placing them in a diagram of three circles. Anything placed in the central circle was considered most important; the middle circle was of secondary importance and the outer circle was for those considered of lesser importance. 60% of participants placed their pets in the central circle and 20% placed them in the second circle. This showed that most participants believed that their pets were very important during the prognosis of their treatment.
The participants stated that their pets help them in recovering from their illness by distracting them from upsetting thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Brooks suggests that this might have happened because pets provide a unique form of validation. They are non-judgmental which is why they can give unconditional support; something which is not possible to expect from family members and relatives. One of the participants said, ‘I felt that my cat was familiar, in that he understood or was an extension to my thoughts’.
Helen Brooks, the head of this study, explained that the findings of their research throws some light on the role of pets on patients with ongoing mental illnesses. This research proved that pets do not only play a marginal role in the healing process but are actually essential to speed up the recovery process of mentally ill patients. This study may affect the way mental health services are provided as they propose the addition of pet keeping into the program.
Having pets in the house is a brilliant way to keep busy, perhaps this is why they help us forget our problems temporarily. They also make us feel worthy as they are not judgmental and love us the way we are. Though India has fewer pet owners and pet facilities we hope that this research is taken to consideration in Indian medical programs so that more people in India are encouraged to keep pets as well.