Is It True: That A Pet Can Help You Cope With Depression?

Posted on June 25, 2016 in Columns, Is It True, Staff Picks

By Saswati Chatterjee:

Depression is a disorder which affects as many as 350 million people, throughout the world. Though easily misunderstood (and as easily dismissed), depression is a fairly serious disorder with up to 15% of its sufferers committing suicide. And despite these statistics, the ways to treat depression remain few and far between. They range from medicinal (such as the use of anti-depressants) to the therapeutic.

Speaking of therapeutic, one of the most commonly suggested methods is getting a pet. ‘Pet therapy‘ is said to keep people ‘less lonely’ and ‘distract us from our negative and anxious thoughts’. The point we’re led to ask is: how successful is such therapy?

Of course, speaking from a purely personal perspective, those among us who are pet owners can understand this point of view. Pets can often give exactly that kind of unconditional love and support that a struggling person may need in that time of their lives, without the pesky questions a human might ask. As someone who’s owned dogs for as long as she can remember, having an adorable little furball ram into me at the end of a hard day is probably the best thing I could ever ask for.

And it’s not just regular pets that are helpful in your time of need. Service animals (such as service dogs) are often instrumental in a person’s recovery process by giving them a purpose to which they may anchor their lives. People who suffer from depression, especially the likes of clinical depression, may find themselves without the will or the energy to do day-to-day activities. Having a service animal around, entails looking after the animal, which might be extremely helpful. More importantly, pets connect with their owners and will be able to recognise danger signs (such as a panic attack) and calm them down. And sometimes when you just want life to chill and don’t want to talk to anyone while burrowing in your blankets, I bet you’d let your pet join you. I know I would.

Animal-assisted therapy is lauded by pretty much everyone, for everything from autism to brain injuries. In a set of clinical trials by Maggie O’Haire of Purdue University, she found favorable responses to animal assisted therapy in case of children suffering from autism and Friedmann and Son also reported encouraging responses for animal therapy for diseasing ranging from Alzheimer’s Disease to Down Syndrome. The problem? The same sizes of the studies done in this field are too small. While it is heartening to see the positive responses we’ve gotten so far, there is (for now) no way to tell how effective animal assisted therapy really is.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that having a pet doesn’t help people deal with depression. Considering the diverse range of responses to pet therapy, it is clear that many people agree that it does. As noted above, pets can give people a sense of purpose in their lives or, more importantly, just to be there in times of need. People can be lonely or having a bad day or going through a hard time in general and having a wet nose prod you along in life is sometimes all we need.