As pet parents, we know how important our animals are to our mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, research shows that pets have a way of keeping people and communities strong. But a recently-released study has taken this one step further, looking at how pets can potentially benefit people suffering from serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
In the study, participants mapped their “personal networks” using a diagram consisting of three concentric circles. In the inner circle are the people, hobbies, pets, activities, objects, etc. that are most important to you. In the second circle are those that are somewhat less important, and in the outer circle are those that are still important, but less so than those in the other two circles.
The study found that 60% of the participants with pets put their pet in the central circle, 20% put them in the middle circle, 12% put them in the outer circle, and only 8% did not include them in any of the circles
The authors of the study concluded that pets were beneficial in helping people suffering from mental illness in many different ways, including:
- Developing routines
- Providing a sense of control, security, and continuity
- Providing distractions
- Encouraging exercise
- Reducing the social stigma of mental illness
Most importantly, pets “provided participants with a seemingly deep and secure relationship, often not available elsewhere within the network or wider community,” according to the study.