Pets do little to help emotional health of people with severe mental illness, study finds

MADRID, (EUROPA PRESS) – A study by the University of York, United Kingdom, shows that pets, including dogs, cats, fish and birds, do not significantly benefit the emotional health of people with severe mental illness.

The results, published in the scientific journal Human-Animal Interactions, showed that pet ownership was not significantly associated with measures of well-being, depression, anxiety, or loneliness in owners with a range of serious mental illnesses, such as psychiatric disorder, bipolar disorder, or bipolar disorder. psychosis.

The researchers, who followed up on a previous survey from the same cohort in 2021 to assess pet ownership and mental health during COVID-19, say their results contradict the widely held belief that pets are good for the mental health of all owners.

The researchers interviewed 170 participants from the United Kingdom. Of these, 81 owned at least one animal, and most of them felt a strong human-animal bond with their closest animal companion.

Their goal was to explore, in a first-of-its-kind study, the link between pet ownership and mental health in people with severe mental illness, and to find out if the perceived strength of the bond between owner and pet is related to health. animal.

In a 2021 study, they found that pet ownership was associated with self-reported deterioration in mental health, which could be related to pandemic restrictions and the difficulty of caring for your pet in lockdown.

The current data was collected after the lifting of COVID-19 regulations, and while there was a slight increase in well-being scores (suggesting the context of the pandemic may have influenced the results), it was not possible to compare depression and anxiety. scores as they were not collected in the 2021 study.

“In the absence of COVID-19 restrictions, one possible explanation for our current results could be that the added responsibility of pet owners may continue to exacerbate other potential stressors faced by people living with severe mental illness. This includes the cost of food, veterinary bills. and insecurity about housing. Our results may also imply that animal ownership and the perceived strength of the human-animal bond are not sufficient to ensure the well-being of the participants, but the temperament and characteristics of the animals also need to be taken into account. animal,” the researchers explained.

This may also explain why trained therapy animals, as opposed to companion animals, often improve the well-being of people diagnosed with mental illness, as they are usually selected and taught to be friendly, obedient and have a relaxed personality trait.

Despite their findings, the researchers found “peak levels” of attachment to their animals. For example, over 95% said their pet kept them company, was a source of coherence in their lives, and made them feel loved.

The researchers argue that these findings may suggest that pet ownership offers similar benefits to people with severe mental illness and the general population. Thus, companion animals can be an important part of the social network of people diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

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