Depression is often emotionally and physically exhausting for the entire family. While symptoms of depression may start with one member of the family, caregivers, and other family members commonly experience depression due to heightened stress and decrease in self-care. But families can create practices and find supports that intentionally promote wellness for everyone. Have you ever considered how your furry family might make a difference?
Whether you have one now or are considering adopting one in the near future, you should know that dogs and other animals provide tremendous support for those who are suffering from mental health conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. Here are five ways dogs can offer you and your loved one a helping paw.
#1 They Give You Purpose
Dogs can provide meaning. You may have felt like you did not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning or even spent an entire day in bed. However, a dog needs their owner to get up every day to go outside, eat, play, and exercise. Dogs need care and attention that they cannot give themselves. Owning and caring for a dog can help you and your loved one find meaning in each day.
#2 They Help Balance Serotonin and Boost Oxytocin
Dogs are not a replacement for medication that your family member takes, but they can be a great physiological boost. Being with your dog can help to rebalance your serotonin levels, as they can bring immense joy and are always there as a support. Additionally, petting your animal releases a dose of the hormone oxytocin through the body. This hormone reduces stress level and blood pressure and decreases heart rate. The overall effect is calming.
#3 They Offer Unconditional Love
Dogs give us a level of love that may be hard to see in others. Your loved one may often feel isolated, as though no one truly cares about them or understands what they are going through; this is a common feature of depression. A dog, however, does not judge or complain, and they do not offer advice. They are simply there to be held when a person needs them most and will listen quietly. They provide unconditional love that will never change.
#4 They Create Structure and Routine
Having a dog creates structure and routine, things that those who suffer from depression and bipolar disorder need. People have to feed, water, play with, and walk their dog every day, so a routine of some kind is formed. Structure often leads to a sense of pride and validation. The more that they care for their dog and watch the dog thrive, the more their confidence and self-worth increase.
#5 They Get You Out of the House
You may have noticed that your loved one is not going out as much as they used to, if at all, and spending all of their time in the house instead. Having a dog ensures that their person gets outside for some exercise. Walking a dog boosts mood and can lead to feelings of calm, thus reducing anxiety. Dogs can even lead to a better social life as you meet other dog walkers and owners.
We don’t generally give dogs and other animals enough credit for the help and support they provide. There is a reason that dogs are considered to be a person’s best friend. If your loved one is suffering from depression or bipolar disorder, why not take them to visit a dog or volunteer at an animal shelter and see if it helps them? From there, you could even consider a furry friend for the family. Who knows? You might all get a bit of emotional support.