Today’s guest post is a talk about depression and an avenue to which pets can help. This and other elements of mental health is something Physical Therapists and ALL healthcare professionals should be awareness, well versed in, and understanding as to whom to refer individuals to in a time of crisis. Thank you to Lacey Nolan for your contribution, today in support of mental health across all healthcare disciplines.
Be depression Free… Naturally!
Many people that have depression find that having a pet helps improve their mental health. Pets have a profound effect on psychological well being; just their presence is therapeutic and helps reduce stress and anxiety. People with clinical depression may be able to make their pet an emotional support animal if it helps them cope with the symptoms of their depression disorder. Learn more about how to be depression free naturally by getting a pet.
The Pet Effect
Pets can change our mood quickly. They teach us to live in the moment and are the perfect distraction from negativity and anxious thoughts. When you come home after a bad day, and your pet greets you by the door with a wagging tail and looks at you like you’re the most important person on the planet, you feel better and forget about all of the bad things that happened in your day.
Chemical Changes in the Brain
Scientists and psychologists studied the effects pets have on the brain and found that they chemically alter the body. When you’re cuddling or petting a cat, dog, rabbit or other animal, cortisol levels decrease, and oxytocin increases. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and has negative effects on the mind and body over long periods of time. Oxytocin is the love hormone that helps combat depression.
Many people who have depression feel alone. Depression can be very isolating, making it hard to socialize with friends and family. During depressive episodes, getting out of bed can feel like a monumental task. Even during the loneliest and hardest moments, pets are there by our side to give us love and support, even when we aren’t feeling positive about ourselves.
Emotional Support Animals
Many therapists recommend emotional support animals to help those with depression. Emotional support animals do not need any training, as a service dog would. They are allowed to live in housing that does not permit pets and travel with their owners in the air cabin. In order to get an emotional support animal, all you need is a letter from a licensed mental health professional recognizing your need for your ESA as part of their recommended treatment plan for depression. If you think you have clinical depression and your pet would make a good ESA, take the Certapet 5-Minute Pre-Screening to see if you qualify and connect with a licensed mental health professional in your state.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the US, affecting millions of people each year. Therapists and doctors treat depression with a combination of therapy and medication. Many licensed mental health professionals recommend those with depression get a pet or an emotional support animal to help them cope with the symptoms of their depression. Pets help boost mood, having chemical effects on the brain and make their owners feel less alone. Those diagnosed with depression may be eligible to make their pets an emotional support animal for housing and travel.
- How does an ESA help you feel better?
Therapists and other licensed mental health professionals recommend emotional support animals to improve the mental health and well being of those with a variety of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional support animals do not need training. Just their presence provides therapeutic benefit, but how? Learn how does an ESA help you to feel better.
ESA vs. Service Dogs
Many people confuse emotional support animals with service animals, but they are very different. An emotional support animal can be any animal, while a service animal can only be a dog or a miniature horse. Service animals are highly trained to perform tasks for their disabled owners. Emotional support animals do not legally need any training but do need to behave in public. Service animals can accompany their owners in any places open to the general public, even restaurants, and museums, while emotional support animals are not allowed in these places.
ESAs Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Psychologists and scientists studied the effects that pets have on the brain and found that they naturally reduce stress and anxiety. Pets alter their owner’s moods, helping them to live in the moment, distracting them from negative thoughts. On a chemical level, cuddling or petting a cat, dog, or other animal lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, responsible for the flight or fight response. It leads to feelings of anxiety and stress. When playing with a pet, the brain releases oxytocin, the love hormone, which helps combat depressive thoughts and feelings.
Emotional support animals are important for physical health too. Scientists found that pet owners have lower blood pressure and less heart disease than non-pet owners, due to the lowered levels of stress and anxiety. Dogs as emotional support animals in particular help encourage exercise which is essential for both mental and physical health. Dog owners walk on average more than non-dog owners do. Ideally, a pup should get two thirty-minute walks a day with additional playtime like fetch.
Many of the psychological conditions that therapists recommend emotional support animals can be isolating and cause people to feel lonely. Loneliness worsens symptoms of many of these conditions. Emotional support animals are excellent companions, especially during travel, and help keep their owners calm and loved. An ESA is by their owner’s side no matter what, offering no judgment, demanding no explanations, just giving love and support every single day.
Emotional support animals are important for the mental and physical health and well being of their owners. An ESA helps their owner cope with the symptoms of their condition, reducing stress and anxiety while making them feel less alone. Any pet can become an emotional support animal, but many therapists only feel comfortable writing ESA letters for common pets like cats and dogs. If you have a pet that provides therapeutic benefit, take the Certapet 5-Minute Pre-Screening to see if you have a qualifying condition and connect with a licensed mental health professional practicing in your state.
Depression is a serious thing. If you are going through a challenging time or know someone who is, please consider the following resources:
- Depression Crisis Hotline | Text Line
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
- American Psychological Association: Depression
- WebMD: Depression Resources
Please note, the resources above are open source discoveries and are not an endorsement by PhysicalTherapist.com
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