Mental Health Awareness Week: the importance of pets
Throughout this year's Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) starts, many people struggling with mental health are in an even more difficult predicament than usual as the disruption, loneliness and anxiety brought forth by the current pandemic are putting millions under extreme stress. In this difficult time, many of us can count on the support of our pets - and it can make a world of difference.
Earlier this year, a study found that pet companionship not only helps with loneliness, but also has a role in preventing suicide among the elderly. A study by NOAH (National Office of Animal Health) found that 67 per cent of people believe having a pet provides companionship and friendship, and 52 per cent believe that pets help those who may be feeling lonely. Even before lockdown, over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – have said they always or "often feel lonely".
Jon Neal, chief executive of mental health charity Suffolk Mind, said, "Maintaining good mental health is all about getting key emotional needs met. For many people, a pet is their way of meeting their need for emotional connection. We all need someone in our lives who accepts us, warts and all, for who we are. Someone we can count on when the chips are down and that we can be ourselves around.
"For many people, their animal companion serves that function, and many more. Lots of us feel we can confide in our pets, rather than the humans in our lives."
However ecstatic our pets may be to have us around 24/7, there is a downside: as veterinary practices across the country had to reduce, it is possible underlying conditions are going unchecked. NOAH is urging owners to keep an eye on their pets in this extra time together.
Dawn Howard, NOAH’s chief executive, says, “Our pets have been invaluable to us during these times of extreme stress. As we start to come out of lockdown, we need to make sure we take stock of their own needs too.
“Being at home with our pets, we are in a good place to be able to watch for any small changes: a slight limp, a change in eating or drinking patterns, discomfort when eating, lack of energy on a daily walk or an unusual urge to withdraw from us.
"Changes like these can be indicators of an underlying problem which may be impacting our pets’ welfare. It’s important to contact your vet to discuss these and other matters, such as vaccinations and parasite control that may have slipped as we have been staying at home.
“Processes for consultation may have changed, for example with greater use of video conferencing for initial consultations, but your vet will still be able to work with you to make sure you keep your pets physically and mentally happy in these unprecedented times."