Depression whether it is caused by loss or by experiences in your life can offset many things and make life a daily struggle of trying to keep your head above water.
“I have experienced depression from losing an animal, but not from losing a person. Nothing cheers me up after losing an animal. I just reach a new normal and continue loving all the animals in my life,” said Robin Voisey, professor in the Animal Care program at Durham College.
Research shows pets can improve your mental health.
“It has been scientifically proven that your heart intelligence can improve your health from a biochemical, biophysical and energetic level,” said Voisey.
In a 2014 study published by the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers found humans who had animal companions had beneficial changes to their health.
These changes include an increased mood, general improved physical health, decreased stress as well as becoming more social in all aspects of their life.
The study suggests part of the reason humans see improvements in mental health is because the animal offers an environment that is free from judgement or stress.
Pets also work in a different way than humans, which allows them to see the world differently.
People have two forms of intelligence. One is head intelligence that is made up of negative feelings such as worry and depression, which is damaging to our mental health. Heart intelligence is made up of positive feelings like love and compassion, which can help improve human health.
According to Voisey, pets make great companions for humans because they give humans something to care for and usually get them active. Pets also love unconditionally because they have strong heart intelligence instead of head intelligence, said Voisey.
According to Angela Martin-King, animal chiropractor at Kingstone Animal Chiropractic, pets can be a great way to lift your mood and spirit.
“Pets are always in the moment. They do not dwell on something that happened, they move on. Their energy is focused in the moment and so they help us focus our energy on what is going on right now,” said Martin-King. “Because they live in the moment, they are naturally optimistic and share that enthusiasm with people. How can you not smile at a tail wagging puppy?”
Pets often mirror their owners to teach them and to help in any way they can.
“If a depressed person owned a pet, the pet might try to mimic depression to try to show the owner that is how they are feeling,” said Voisey. “Along with giving them all the benefits of companionship and a sense of responsibility.”
According to Martin-King, humans need pets for protection and companionship.
“They can be assistants or helpers, or protectors and guardians. They can alleviate stress, depression, and give that uncompromisable love we all seek,” said Martin-King. “Humans need companions, and pets are the best at providing what each person needs.”
A study conducted by the University of Saskatchewan on equine assisted psychotherapy showed horses are the best type of therapy for people who have suffered a traumatic event or severe mental health issues.
The study showed animals are intuitive creatures. Horses are the most intuitive with dogs being a close second.
“If you have a depressed person or someone who had abuse or any kind of mental health issues, if they are standing in the middle of a group of horses, a specific horse will walk forward because they can help that person, “ said Voisey.
The emotional state of humans has an energy field that is eight-to-10 feet outside of their bodies, she said, so intuitive animals are drawn to people who need help.
Companion animals could make a huge difference with people who are living with mental health issues and provide them with a higher level of living, according to Voisey.
She says it is important to keep researching and providing information about animals as a tool in mental health.
“If we understand it from a scientific and spiritual level, people will accept it, believe in it and maybe practise it,” said Voisey.
There are currently therapy dogs available to PTSD patients as well as other people with severe mental health issues. The responsibility acts as a coping mechanism to promote a positive mindset.
Voisey says even though these things are offered they could be enhanced and offered to more people who need them.
Martin-King says that they people shouldn’t receive animals but rather adopt them and that the government shouldn’t fund the entirety of a program like this.
“However, I do think that the government should give grants to those who serve and are in need of a therapy animal for recovery,” said Martin-King. “This would keep the control of those programs with the professionals that are trained to run them, and also give the support of the government for recovery.”
She says people who require a therapy dog should look into adoption instead.
“There is always an opportunity to start with a personal pet as a companion, I have known many dogs that have the qualities required to be a therapy animal, and develop these qualities based on what their person needs,” said Martin-King.