Having a pet in your life often translates to joy, whether it’s that furry ball running at the door to greet you whenever you’re back home, or the little pussy cat that likes to purr every time you give it attention. Even if at first people perceive pets as a source of entertainment, soon enough after hosting one, that feeling completely disappears and the pet becomes more of a family member.
Pets quickly become a source of healing, of companionship and of understanding, and therefore, multiple researches have set out to study how pets can help with battling and overcoming mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
For those who suffer from any anxiety disorder, it is no secret how crippling it can be and how terrifying it gets. Between being constantly anxious and the lack of desire in being around people, or being pulled out of your comfort zone, one’s entrapment slowly becomes tinted in lonesomeness to say the least.
More often than you would like to admit to the world, or to yourself, you’d wish you had someone to talk to and be with comfortably. You want to be able to show your true self without the mind blowing fear of being put into situations you don’t want to deal with.
You may think that’s impossible, but as a matter of fact, it is not. According to the studies conducted by WEDMD, a well-known healthcare website in the U.S, and Health Guide, a non-profit organization dedicated to raise awareness about mental issues, owning a pet can help with anxiety disorders and depression.
Depression is an illness that affects millions and millions around the world, and if left untreated, the illness can lead to suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders and many other mental illnesses.
Among some of the effects that depression has on people’s lives is often feeling empty, helpless and hopeless. Depression tends to leave people tired and unable to focus, until they generally become very apathetic to their lives; meaning that the more depressed they get, the more suicidal they become.
How can an animal or a pet help with such thoughts and tendencies? Unlike interacting with human peers, a pet is constantly by your side, it never judges you and loves you unconditionally, and that restores the sense of being wanted.
Without having to worry about others’ judgment, many people feel more comfortable expressing their anger or agony around their pets, whether through crying or even throwing tantrums, enabling them to release a lot of bottled up emotions which may have led to depression in the first place.
Speaking to Menna A., a 22-year-old aspiring violinist and someone who has been battling depression since the age of 15, she shared her story of how adopting a dog saved her life.
“I needed a friend and I knew that animals wouldn’t exactly judge me,” she said. “My mom’s only rule was that the dog must be small in order to fit in an apartment. Immediately after seeing Rocket for the first time, I knew that he’s the one I wanted to take home. The rest is history.
“Prior to having Rocket, I was unable to get out of bed, let alone function like a ‘normal’ human being,” she explained. “I really had no will to try to go on any longer.”
Without doing anything special, Rocket’s mere presence was a concrete element in Menna’s triumph over depression.
In a Johns Hopkins’ Depression and Anxiety bulletin, Karen Swatz, M.D, points out that pets’ unconditional love and acceptance, soothing presence, ability to distract, constant need for affection, and constant need for care are all factors that help eliminate anxiety and depression.
With the country’s lack of awareness in regards to mental illnesses and disorders, along with the social stigma revolving having one, adopting pets from shelters would not only mean a second chance for the animal but also a chance of having a healthier, more stable life despite mental illnesses.
Like Menna said: “even though his farts may smell like death, with each one he passes, he gives me a bit of life.”
In the meantime, Egypt is running a nationwide campaign to kill harmless stray animals in an attempt to decrease their population. Many of those animals die mercilessly by either being shot or poisoned. However, many are left to suffer lifelong diseases or physical defects and thus, remain in shelters to die alone.
In a country where humans and animals suffer in their own ways, could it be that each holds the answer to the other’s problem?