What Unconditional Love Means for Our Minds

When we need them most, pets are there — and thank goodness

Finding better ways to address serious and ongoing mental health issues has become a national priority. Suicide rates are rising, addiction is infiltrating our communities, post-traumatic stress disorder continues to plague our veterans and others, and depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are finally coming out of the shadows.

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Addressing these mental health conditions is vital — but resources aren’t always readily available.

Pets may not seem like the answer — or enough of one — yet a new study supports the long-held notion that animals do have a therapeutic effect on humans. If you’re among those struggling, you may want to give having one around a try.

Researchers from the University of Manchester, England, found in a small study that pets are often seen as the most valuable and central social support in their owners’ lives, often providing secure relationships unavailable through human ties.

“Although the value of therapy animals for mental health problems is well-documented, the nature of the role pets play in the everyday management of serious mental illness is underexplored,” lead study author Helen Brooks, of the University of Manchester, told Reuters Health.

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“Pets are of significant value to those managing serious mental illness and should be considered a mainstay rather than a marginal source of support,” she added.

Related: The Power of a Pooch

Pets are beneficial, the patients stated, because they help to detract from thoughts of suicide; give people a sense of order, responsibility, and security — and provide unconditional acceptance.

Study participants were asked to write the names of people, places, and things that gave them support into a diagram with three concentric circles around a square representing the pet owner. About 60 percent of the people placed pets in the closest circle to them — while 20 percent placed them in the second circle.

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