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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week

Do you know animals can strengthen your mental and physical well-being?

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. There are a range of conditions and treatments around this health issue, but one that maybe doesn’t get enough attention is the role animals can and do play in keeping us healthy and helping us cope or recover when we are experience mental illness.

For millennia, humans have had a special relationship with animals. However, it has only been recently that medical experts have become more aware of the depth and breadth of impacts that these relationships have on our physical and mental well-being.

You know the happy feeling you get hearing your cat purr or seeing your dog wag her tail when she sees you. That’s a cool thing. It also helps keep you healthy! Studies (and billions of anecdotes!) indicate that these relationships do more than just make us happy. They make us healthy!

Pets can have a direct physiological impact on us, measurably reducing symptoms like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things. It can even reduce our blood pressure. Interacting with animals, especially our beloved pets, reduces stress hormones and increases “good” hormones, like serotonin and oxytocin.

By their very presence, pets increase mindfulness. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in our own thoughts, to worry about the future or pick at regrets from the past. It’s harder to do that when a cat jumps on your lap or a border collie whacks his snout on your elbow to get an ear rub. And, if the border collie is actually looking for a walk, well, evidence shows that even a 10-minute walk in the fresh air can improve our happiness levels.

According to the Canadian census, there are more one-person households than any other type of living situation. Coming home to an empty apartment or house can be wonderful. But sometimes it’s nice to be greeted by a welcoming presence in the form of a beloved companion animal. This physical presence alone can alleviate the loneliness that all of – even some of us who live with others – experience from time to time.

Animals that get us out of our homes play very important roles in our health, too. Not only does walking the dog encourage regular exercise routines, it also increases socialization, which is an important determinant of health, especially among older Canadians.

There are a lot of benefits to companion animals when it comes to our mental health and overall well-being. However, if you experience something other than routine or mild depression, anxiety or other symptoms, of course you should consult a medical professional. Get information, access resources or reach out in case of emergency.