Companion animals help the mentally ill, say scientists

While mental health practitioners have argued for the benefits of patients having companion animals for a number of years now, to date scientific evidence has been lacking. Now, finally, researchers have conducted a systematic international examination of the data and have concluded that while there are downsides (costs, care, coping with loss), there are measurable upsides to mentally ill people having companion animals.

There is increasing recognition of the therapeutic function pets can play in relation to mental health. However, there has been no systematic review of the evidence related to the comprehensive role of companion animals and how pets might contribute to the work associated with managing a long-term mental health condition…

A new study, published in BMC Psychiatry, conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton, suggests that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions.

The study, led by Dr. Helen Brooks from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, aimed to explore the extent, nature and quality of the evidence implicating the role and utility of pet ownership for people living with a mental health condition. The study team systematically reviewed 17 international research papers, to identify the positive, negative and neutral impacts of pet ownership.

The research highlighted the ‘intensiveness’ of connectivity people with companion animals reported, and the multi-faceted ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.


Journal Reference:  Helen Louise Brooks, Kelly Rushton, Karina Lovell, Penny Bee, Lauren Walker, Laura Grant, Anne Rogers. The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry, 2018; 18 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2