The Pawsitives of Pets!
April was National Pet Month and Stress Awareness Month, and in both our interventions and our Make Me Smile project, young people discuss the positive impact a pet can have on their mental health. Young people are often the first to recognise that talking to or spending time with a pet can be an effective way to relieve stress. The Mental Health Foundation has highlighted some key ways in which pets can positively impact our mental health.
Research from both The Mental Health Foundation and Cats Protection UK suggests that owning a cat can have a positive impact on your well-being: 87% of people surveyed agreed. We find that a lot of young people believe talking to their cat about their worries can have a positive impact on how they are feeling. We discuss with children the importance of not bottling up our emotions, and talking to a pet who will simply sit and listen is a therapeutic release. It's important to remember to seek help from adults when you need more than a meow in response! Pets can have a direct impact on mental wellbeing as they help calm us when we are worried. Their reliance and unconditional love makes us feel needed, which builds self-confidence and self-esteem. Our young people often explain that they spend time with their pet as a distraction technique when they are worried.
However, pets are valuable to our mental health in more way than one. They allow us to socialise and meet new people through dog-walking groups. The One-Eighty team have also previously taken young people along to a dog rescue centre to help walk them during one-to-one sessions. The exercise and fresh air are brilliant for your mental health, whatever your age!
Taking on the responsibility of owning a pet can also help create structure and develop a sense of ownership and purpose, which can aid those with poor mental health to feel empowered. When discussing worries in Make Me Smile sessions children have brought up the worry of forgetting to feed their pets. Some strategies they have come up with to tackle this problem include making a rota or a sign, setting a regular alarm on a phone as a reminder, and asking a parent or carer for help. Many children also mention that they worry about their pet running away or getting ill. So, although pets are a great distraction when young people are worried, the sense of responsibility that comes with owning a pet develops empathy and care.
For young people with diagnoses, owning a pet can be an overwhelmingly positive experience. Children with ADHD may love running about and playing with a furry friend, and it can help them channel their energy positively. For those with ASD, spending time with pets is a great way to experience different smells, noises, and textures, amongst other benefits. Animal sanctuaries and petting farms are a great opportunity for this!
If you’d like to find out more, or if you would just like to flick through some pet pictures, head over to our social media pages!