September 2020 is National Suicide Prevention Month; Do pets play a role in prevention?

At the end of a long day, coming home to a wagging tail or a purring kitty can turn a bad day into a manageable one. As pet owners, we have all had those moments where our furry companions are more than dogs or cats; they are our confidants, our therapists, and undoubtedly our biggest fans. We have also had those moments where our happiness is directly related to how much time we get to spend with our faithful fur babies. Not only is this a relatable feeling among pet owners, but this theory is actually backed by science. It turns out our dogs and cats are actually good for our health!

Our animals offer the benefits of companionship and loyalty staving off loneliness while also providing a sense of worth and belonging.  Hopelessness and isolation are some of the most cited feelings in those who consider suicide.  Pets offer structure and purpose to our days by providing us with a routine whether that is keeping them on a feeding schedule, ensuring they have a fresh box for use or that morning and evening walk they never let us forget. 

Caring for a companion animal, while no health studies have found a direct correlation between pet ownership and suicide, can provide different outlets and opportunities for those dealing with depression and anxiety. Our animals can lead us more into nature away from our smart phones and televisions at the local dog park or those hiking trails we otherwise would skip. They teach us mindfulness and ground us in moments of stress.  But most importantly, our pets provide us with unconditional love and comfort

September is National Suicide Prevention month. In 2020, this month holds elevated importance as Coronavirus has gripped our nation since early spring. According to the Center for Disease Control, 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. Though pets may not be the cure for depression, anxiety, substance abuse or suicide, we know one thing for sure; they certainly provide us with a lot of the best life has to offer!  If you know anyone struggling with suicide or depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Sources:

  1. Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon, September 14, 2020.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health, “Suicide Prevention,” The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center. May 7, 2020, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml#part_153177, September 14, 2020.
  3. Steven Feldman, “Alleviating Anxiety, Stress and Depression with the Pet Effect”, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, November 2018, https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/alleviating-anxiety-stress-and-depression-pet, September 14, 2020.
  4. Caren Osten, “How Dogs Drive Emotional Well-Being”, Psychology Today, April 18, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-balance/201804/how-dogs-drive-emotional-well-being, September 14, 2020.
  5. Hal Herzog Ph.D., “Do Pet Owners Have Lower Suicide Rates?” Psychology Today, November 7, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201911/do-pet-owners-have-lower-suicide-rates, September 14, 2020.

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