Mental Health Crisis

Ninety percent of Americans believe the U.S. is in a mental health crisis. And if that is you or someone you love, please do get help, and know that we now have a new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline connecting callers directly to trained mental health professionals.

In a nutshell, according to researcher, Ashley Kirzinger:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, polling from both KFF and CNN had indicated that there were increased concerns around mental health of both adults and children in the US, both in terms of the toll the pandemic had on people’s mental health, but also the barriers for those seeking mental health. Stress and worry around themselves and loved ones getting sick or dying from Covid-19, job losses, loss of childcare for working parents are just a few examples.

Starting really in March 2020, we were finding about half of adults saying that worry and stress from the pandemic was having a negative impact on their mental health. And for some groups, such as parents and younger adults, the shares reporting a negative impact were even larger. All of this made both teams at KFF and CNN interested in conducting a project that focused solely on mental health, with some attention being paid to the populations that we know were hit hardest by the pandemic.

Especially among our younger adults, studies are finding that, starting around 2021, “younger adults became moodier and more prone to stress, less cooperative and trusting, and less restrained and responsible.”

One of the lucky ones, knock on wood, my loved ones and I have been doing pretty well. Okay sure, I have been studying, practicing, teaching coping skills, resilience, happiness…for a very long time, and all of that should count for something.

But truth be told, I have been wondering how much of my own well-being through the pandemic had to do with, among other people and things, Rafael Leonardo, my sweet little dog.

Then, just the other day, Science Daily put it out there for us—dogs know with 93.75% accuracy exactly when we are stressed.

How Pets Can Help

Dogs can smell our psychological distress on our breaths and our sweat. Not only that, just being with them can help lower our stress levels and we can lower theirs, as both heart rates synchronize lower together.

WebMD tells us that spending quality time with your cat works too, for heart health, soothing stress, lifting spirits, helping autistic children, and boosting baby’s immune system. They also want us to know that pets, especially dogs, are great social connectors, because we can talk to strangers when we are walking our dogs without seeming strange.

So, pets are great antidotes to loneliness, a leading risk factor for both physical and mental health.

And, I’ve already written about how dogs help us reach our goals, which then increases our sense of agency, and hence our mental health. From that blog post:

One study finds that participants who either had their pets with them or only imagined their pet were able to generate more life goals and have more confidence in their ability to achieve these goals than participants without pets. This is Rafael Leonardo, who hit his goal as you can see, And, with so many people wondering where their motivation has gone—if pets are good for goals and just about everything else, well then… The American Veterinary Medical Association reports:

Dogs Cats Birds Horses
Percent of households owning 38.4 25.4 2.8 0.7

And if you happen to be one of the households owning a dog—don’t imagine this will work as well with Cats, Birds, Horses—try looking longingly into each other’s eyes, as studies show that long-eye gazing increases oxytocin for dog and dog owner alike, nourishing neural connections associated with regulating fear, stress, social skills, love, empathy, bonding… Studies also show pets bring kids higher self-esteem, cognitive development, social skills and that pet owners, in general, are happier and healthier in life. Pets bring higher quality of life, and less anxiety and depression for seniors too.

Even so, not everyone wants a pet for all kinds of reasons that make sense. Maybe they travel. Maybe they’re allergic. Maybe they have mobility issues. Maybe it’s too expensive and time-consuming to feed another mouth…food, toys, trips to the vet for check-ups, shots, tests and all.

So, what if owning a pet just isn’t your thing?

And We Don’t Have to Own One

The happy news is that we can have healthy relationships with pets without owning one. As above, just imagining oneself with a pet can bring life benefits.

For real pets, people can walk or play with the neighbor’s pet, foster a pet until rescue, or be a shelter volunteer.

Somewhere online recently, I saw a mom requesting to ‘rent a pet’ and yes, indeed, it looks like Rover.com has a program for that.

A wise mentor once said, “We have to take care of those we count on to take care of us.” Apparently dogs love those 3 little words just as much as we do, so don’t forget to say “I love you” to your pet.

Practice, practice, practice…and let us know what you find.

Warm wishes,

Madelaine

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