Can furry friends help with mental health?

Emotional+support+dogs+are+allowed+in+public+places%2C+but+not+as+many+as+service+dogs.

Image courtesy Creative Commons

Emotional support dogs are allowed in public places, but not as many as service dogs.

Gracie Engle, a junior at Stephen Decatur High School, deals with the stresses of school. Her dog, Pip, helps to relieve some of this stress.

While Pip is not an official emotional support dog, Engle still feels Pip helps tremendously.

“One weekend, I was feeling heavily overwhelmed about my large amount of homework due on that Monday,” she said. “I was sitting in my bed, taking a break from my math homework, when my dog jumped into my bed and snuggled up real close. Usually she isn’t one for snuggling, especially when she’s the one approaching me, but it was almost as though she knew I was feeling very anxious.”

Throughout the weekend, Pip followed Gracie around the house, like she was checking up.

“Even though she could not comfort me with words or aid me with my homework,” Engle added, “just her presence calmed me down.”

Several studies show how beneficial pets can be for coping with difficult and tiring emotions. Emotional support animals are proven to “help their owners cope with the challenges associated with emotional and mental health conditions (such as depression and anxiety) by providing comfort with their presence,” according to the non-profit organization American Humane.

Anxiety and depression levels in people of all ages are constantly increasing, especially in teenagers and young adults in a school environment. Many students attend therapy to help better understand these emotions and how to relieve them. Sometimes this is a helpful outlet to overwhelming feelings, but other times, people are simply in need of a furry companion to help.

Emotional support animals can be very helpful beneficial in professionally giving aid during times of panic or frustration, but they are not necessarily the perfect resolution. For many, simply a dog or a cat with no legal documents can be just as rewarding.

A 2018 study by the website Pawlicy.com showed that about 57 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet. Many people share the experience of feeling sad, anxious, or even depressed, and then feeling relieved once they were around their beloved pet.

Janet Hoy-Gerlach is a professor of social work at The University of Toledo. Along with her team, she conducted a study to find evidence that emotional support animals provide benefits to individuals with serious mental illness.

“We have seen a significant increase in social isolation because of COVID-19, particularly among those most vulnerable to its effects,” Hoy-Gerlach said in a press release from the university. “While our research was initiated before the pandemic, the finding couldn’t be more applicable. Now more than ever, we need to be thinking about leveraging every resource at our disposal.”