How being a pet parent can help you beat depression

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According to The World Health Organization (WHO), South Africa has the sixth highest rate of suicide on the continent and the eighth highest in the world. Twenty-three people commit suicide and 460 people attempt it every 24 hours in SA alone.

It was World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, and with 300 million people affected by depression globally, it’s prevalence in society can’t go unheard. But some are finding new ways to beat depression, taking to their furry friends for answers.

And it’s worked. Dr Guy Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition nutritional advisor says “There’s evidence that pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression and in some cases even cure it. People with pets are happier, interact more with others and are less likely to visit the doctor.”

Ever wondered why watching pet videos on YouTube, makes you happy? Pets are known to help when it comes to overcoming everyday stress. Even with a laugh from your grumpy Bulldog, you’re releasing those feel-good endorphins. Having a pet not only provides one with a purpose but walking, feeding, pampering, brushing and playing with a pet will get you up and moving – and are a great way to help you keep fit.


The study behind it

And the science agrees. Lucy Breytenbach, Animal Science Behaviour & Welfare Canine Behaviour Practitioner from Honey’s Garden says, “Any dog with a sensitive disposition and who is in tune with a human’s emotions can be trained to be an emotional support dog.”

She adds, “Emotional support dogs respond to changes in their pet parent’s emotional state, such as scratching, nail-biting, leg shaking or hair pulling. They may be taught to give cuddles on command and provide emotional comfort. These dogs may be trained to provide comfort to many people and be taken to retirement homes, hospice and children’s homes, among other places.”

“With World Suicide Prevention Day, we need to beat depression and emphasise that it is, in fact, a medical condition. Just as any other organ in the body can become ill or affected, so too can the brain. Various factors –  not just chemical imbalances within certain sections of the brain, can lead to various mental illnesses, including depression,” says Cipla’s Associate Director, Wouter Lombard.


Deep pressure therapy

Training of emotional support dogs involves teaching tasks such as notifying their pet parent when someone is approaching or standing behind them as well as deep pressure therapy (DPT). According to Harkla, “DPT is a firm, tactile sensory input that provides proprioceptive input to the whole body. This can consist of firm hugs, firm stroking, cuddling, hugging, squeezing, compression or swaddling. When administered to the whole body, deep touch pressure therapy (DTP) has a calming, organising effect on children and adults alike.”

But this therapy can be done with dogs, too. With the use of a service dog benefiting people with a variety of psychiatric conditions including anxiety disorder, mood disorder, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to use their body weight to apply pressure to their owner’s body during panic attacks to minimise the severity and duration of such attacks.

Share this article to help those in need. South Africa’s suicide crisis helpline is: 0800 12 13 14. Click here for all the details on how to get help.



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