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Photo via Pixabay by MartinaPazienza

Many pet owners feel a deep bond with their animals, so much so that they consider them to be just another family member. Some families take their pets on vacations with them; others would never think of buying a home without making sure it has everything their pet needs first. But for all of the love we give animals, many people aren’t aware of just how beneficial they can be during a battle with mental illness.

Animals can give comfort in a way that no human can; they don’t judge, they love unconditionally, and they never ask for anything in return (except maybe a belly scratch or two). For someone who is in the throes of depression or is having trouble relating to other people, that can be huge.

“When I’m feeling really low they are wonderful because they won’t leave my side for two days. They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it,” said one pet owner who participated in a study that names pets as one of the most helpful tools for people living with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Here are just a few of the ways having a pet can help in the battle against a mental illness.

They can help you stay social

Dogs are very social animals for the most part, and they love getting attention. Taking your pet to the park or to a dog-friendly location in your neighborhood–such as a coffee shop or bookstore–can help you when it comes to getting out and meeting new people, or simply trying something new. In some cities, libraries even invite dogs and their owners to come on certain days to allow kids to read to them.

They can get you active

For some who are living with mental illness, depression and bipolar disorder can lead to periods of withdrawal. You may feel like doing nothing more than staying in bed for most of a day, and it can be difficult to get out and see your friends or family, much less exercise. Yet workouts can help boost your mood and your self-esteem, making daily exercise a definite plus. Dogs can be great motivators in that area and can help you get moving, even if it’s just for a quick walk a couple of times a day.

They can give you a sense of purpose

Mental illness affects everyone in different ways, but for many people, there’s a feeling of being untethered. Having a structure in your days can help you feel connected to something, and pets offer that in spades. Dogs, especially, are set in their routines and rely on their owners to carry them out each day. Doing so can help you have a sense of purpose and can boost your confidence.

They can help with recovery

Pets can be extremely helpful for a person who is in recovery from substance abuse, in part because they are loyal companions who provide company, support, and love when you need it most. Many people who are living sober have issues with friends or family members, so having a pet is a way to combat loneliness and to feel needed. You can find more information on how pets can be helpful in recovery here.

Animals have their own set of needs, too, so keep that in mind before making the decision to get one. It’s a big responsibility, but it can change your life for the better if you plan well and accept the challenge.

For info on how specific pets can affect your mental well-being, read on here.