How Pets Help People Suffering from Depression

A respected Kansas City psychiatrist, Christie Mensch works with patients at Wyandot Center. Christie Mensch has extensive experience treating individuals with conditions such as schizophrenia and anxiety, and she has a long-standing interest in the ways in which pet therapy is effective against depression.

At the root of this therapeutic effect is the unconditional love that pets offer and the way this helps ease loneliness. One study of more than three dozen St. Louis nursing home residents found that those who spent time with a visiting therapy dog felt significantly less lonely after just a half-hour visit each week. The quality of the interaction mattered in a surprising way: although residents who spent time with the pet in the company of others reported lower levels of loneliness than those without canine interaction, this increase in well-being was experienced much more by those who spent time one-on-one with the pet.

A key aspect of this may involve the profound physiological and psychological benefits offered through touch. Hugging has been shown to reduce stress levels and decrease heart rates and blood pressure through the release of oxytocin. In addition, it may benefit the immune system and help control production of the stress hormone cortisol.

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