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How can animals assist with our mental health?

Animals have a remarkable ability to bring joy to our lives. When invited into our homes, our two legged, four legged and perhaps, if you’re particularly brave, eight legged friends can quickly become important members of our families.

But how crucial are animals for our mental well-being?

Well, the experts have officially confirmed what we’ve long felt to be true: animals can benefit our mental health.

Animals get us talking and moving

If you have a dog, chances are you’ll find yourself in a park at some point.

Where there’s a dog park, there’s a group of chatty owners.

Deakin University’s Claire Henderson-Wilson and Emily Cooke point out that animals can act as a “social lubricant”.

‘Having a companion animal can facilitate interactions between humans, which can increase our sense of belonging and improve our social health,’ says Cooke.

The simple act of walking your dog goes a long way in improving your physical health by increasing your level of daily physical activity. This, in turn, improves your mental health.

Interacting with pets also releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of love and trust. While commonly linked to childbirth, studies have shown it’s also released when interacting with our pets.

The significance of therapy animals

Cooke and Henderson-Wilson conducted research to investigate how Animal-Assisted  Interventions could be used to enhance mental health on Deakin’s campuses.

Animal-Assisted  Interventions see therapy animals and their handlers offering support to individuals within a specific setting — like a university.

‘One of our studies found that within the university setting, therapy animals can reduce perceived stress and anxiety, improve mood, and foster a greater sense of campus connectedness,’ Henderson-Wilson says.

Studies have found that participation in Animal-Assisted Interventions can reduce  physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol.

Incorporating therapy animals also provides people with a brief respite from work or study.

Cooke says, ‘Individuals have expressed that seeing therapy animals on campus would boost happiness and enhance the university environment for both staff members and students.’

This break can help break the cycle of stress, enabling people to continue their day with a clearer mind, ultimately leading to greater productivity.

Implementation of Animal-Assisted Intervention in Universities

The benefits of having an Animal-Assisted Intervention in a university setting are clear.

However, successfully implementing this kind of program requires careful consideration.

According to Cooke and Henderson-Wilson, several factors need to be taken into account to ensure successful implementation. Everyone involved must understand the intervention, and the therapy animals and their handlers must be appropriately trained for the intervention on campus.

Monitoring the well-being of both humans and animals involved is also crucial. It’s essential to consider those who are not interested in participating due to factors like phobias and allergies.

Of course, while our happiness as humans is important, it should never come at the expense of an animal’s welfare. Providing water, monitoring for signs of stress or fatigue, and offering a designated break area or comfort stop are essential for keeping our furry friends happy and well.

Animals bring so much joy to us and while we love them, they also love being there for us.

this. featured experts
Ms Emily Cooke
Ms Emily Cooke

Casual Academic,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

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Claire Henderson-Wilson
Claire Henderson-Wilson

Associate Professor,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

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