Zootherapy continues to make astonishing strides. Everyone knows that the presence of animals has a calming effect on humans, leaving them happier and more at ease, but now science has proven it too.
A recent study published in the British review, BMC Psychiatry, conducted by Helen Brooks, a mental health researcher at the University of Manchester, underlines positive results of zootherapy on mentally troubled humans.
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The team of researchers surveyed 54 people who were suffering from long-term mental problems, amongst whom 25 considered their pets to play an integral part of their social lives. Participants were given a diagram with three circles, in which they had to write what they considered most important. The middle circle was for the most important things in their lives.
60% of the participants wrote the name of their pet in the middle circle, even before their family and friends. Only 20% put their pets in the second circle. Their friends and family later confirmed this assessment.
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One participant, who lives with two dogs and two cats, affirmed:
When I’m feeling really low they are wonderful because they won’t leave my side for two days. [...] they’ll just come straight back up and just stay with me until I’m ready to come out of it.
Throughout the study, Helen Brooks heard similar confessions. She explained that mentally ill people have the tendency to isolate themselves, and an animal's presence can change that because they bring out emotions in people that their own family and friends have a hard time seeing.Participants underlined the feeling of being misunderstood by other people, which is one of the most difficult parts of mental illness, that only animals can help with. One participant explained:
They [pets] don’t look at the scars on your arms, or they don’t question things.
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Having pets also established a structured routine in a household, forcing their owners to be responsible for their food and exercise. Mentally ill pet owners in particular need this sense of feeling needed and necessary to another being, explained Helen Brooks:
Through the rituals of feeding, exercise, grooming and caring for their pet a sense of consistent daily routine became embedded in their lives, which participants felt was vital for their wellbeing.
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The scientist would like to promote zootherapy and to see it imposed as a recognized method of treatment for mentally ill patients. She hopes that within the next few years, animal therapy will be proposed in numerous medical structures and respected as a classic method of treatment.
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