Many People Struggling With Depression Find Strength In Pets
“For someone who was once a shell I can actually feel unconditional love for my pets without any fear.” - Angela
Pets bring joy, humour, love and happiness to people all over the world. They are friends, companions, a part of or extension of ourselves.
Websites and portals abound with information on the benefits of pets to help. Respected medical website WebMD.com, for example, quotes experts and studies on how a pet can help deal with and recover from depression. Amongst the benefits are unconditional love, fostering a sense of responsibility, activity, routine and better health overall.
For some, however, pets provide something far more important: a reason to live, and to keep on living.
I have dedicated my life to helping people identify and cultivate strategies to manage and overcome depression and bipolar, right now and in future. On my ‘Back From The Brink’ Facebook group, I invited people to share their strategies for coping when depressed. Lots of people responded attributing a huge part of their support and recovery to their pets, which underscores my own research showing that emotional support is incredibly important for recovery; that emotional support doesn't have to come from humans!
This fascinated me and I decided to put a call out for stories. I am grateful to RSPCA NSW, who picked up on my request and helped spread the word. I received some wonderfully poignant replies and am honoured to present these brave and sometimes raw personal stories, which shine a light on depression and how pets can help get you through.
Alexandra – Where Would Her Pets Be Without Her?
Alexandra has no hesitation in proclaiming that her dogs literally saved her life:
“7 years ago, I was very depressed. I was driving along a straight road and the only thing that stopped me from swerving into a tree, was the thought of my 2 little dogs and who would feed them, walk them and look after them if I was gone.”
Alexandra, a single mother of two, suffered from bullying at work for many years. Whilst she could withstand the bullying, her son moving out of home compounded her battle with depression.
“I was alone for the first time”, she explained.
“My loneliness compounded my depression and I kept asking myself: ‘Why am I here? Why am I putting up with this?’ I endured periods where I felt it was easier not to be alive.”
Since then, Alexandra has a new dog, whom she rescued and who she feels rescues her, describing her as
“the best ever stress relief I could ever have.”
Lucy – Your Pets Mean You’re Never Alone
Pets can be an important – and sometimes sole – source of love and strength for those who are isolated. Lucy, a vet nurse, is an avid dog lover and swears she her faithful pooch played a big part in where she is today. After packing up & leaving the city to make a life in rural NSW, Lucy’s kelpie cross was her only friend and guardian in a new town. A year later she met her husband, but they split for a month during her subsequent pregnancy. To make matters worse, Lucy lost her job as well.
“Having my faithful pooch by my side kept me strong, and gave me a reason to get out of bed each morning.”
But there were more trials to come for Lucy. After giving birth to her son, she suffered badly with post-natal depression. As well as denying that she was suffering from depression, Lucy was also grappling with how to raise a newborn child. Whilst there were times when she would just break down and sob, Lucy recalls fondly that “my furry friend never judged and gave endless cuddles, no matter what the situation.”
Lucy sees the love and joy a pet brings to their owner every day in her work:
“I see people who would sell their left leg to look after their furry friends – it’s definitely a bond stronger than anything that could ever be defined by words.”
Frank – When Pets Come Just At The Right Time
Frank isn’t sure whether he rescued a kitten during his darkest days or whether the kitten rescued him. Battling with depression after losing his mother to illness, he saw a little kitten being swooped by crows two days before the funeral.
The start of a life-affirming experience, Frank recalls:
“I ran outside with a blanket. The kitten had fallen off the brick wall connected to our house and couldn't escape the crows. She was covered in fleas and hated human interaction and was only 5 weeks old.
I kept her in my bathroom with a place to hide. Slowly she would come out for food and every time she did, I would pat her to get her used to human touch. It took two weeks to completely turn her around from a feral kitten to a domesticated one.
Losing my mum was probably the worst thing that has ever and will ever happen to me in my life. I have suffered depression for two years since her death. The kitten was something for me to focus on, and throw all of my love into. She was a source of calm and comfort. She saved me from making very bad decisions around the time of my Mum’s death and I do owe my life to her. Her name is now Lulu (after my mum Linda/Lindy Loo) and she's my princess.”
Mina – Her Dog Helped Her Through Her Worst Moments
Mina suffered a horrendous and traumatic series of life events that left her suffering from agoraphobia. Drawing strength from her faithful Staffordsire cross of 9 years, Mina tells me:
“I know that dogs can help you through just about anything, all you have to do is love them.”
Mary – Pets With A Sixth Sense?
A pet’s love and support can manifest in truly remarkable ways. Take Mary – who suffers from bipolar and agoraphobia as well as trying to keep Type 1 Diabetes under control. Her faithful cat even warns Mary when she needs to take action:
“If she smells ketones on my breath, she pats me on the face and meows to wake me up.”
Angela – A New Purpose In Life
Angela fought a long-running battle with depression over 9 years, using antidepressants that numbed her emotions and ability to empathise. When two suicides at her high-school – including that of a close friend – failed to stir any response in her, Angela had cause to reevaluate both her treatment and lifestyle. Angela’s mother one day took her on a trip to the local RSPCA and surprised her with a beautiful kitten, Indie.
The connection between Angela and Indie heralded a new chapter in her life. Finally, Angela learned to love and feel again. Indie taught her to care and take unconditional responsibility for another creature. Another addition to the family – a pug named Mowgli - motivated Angela to finish up her treatment at a clinic she was admitted to two years previously.
Angela's story also serves as a heartwarming example of finding purpose through fulfilling work. Angela happily reports that she now works in a job that she loves, whilst saving money to travel overseas to volunteer at animal refuges & rescues. In addition to her work and a fulfilling lifestyle, Angela meantime fosters dogs and helps others to train and exercise their dogs. On her new life purpose, Angela says:
“Indie and Mowgli taught me that animals are the ones I want to help and then no matter what happens to me at least I know that I have done good whilst I was here. Animals aren't snide, bitter or conniving, they don't have negative motives. I love them and they love me for who I am.
For someone who was once a shell I can actually feel unconditional love for my pets without any fear.”
Sarah – Animals Listen Without Judging
Sarah's life was turned upside down in November 2010 when she suffered a ruptured aneurysm:
“Everything I knew meant nothing. Everything I thought was important, really didn't matter at all. All that mattered was surviving.”
Whilst Sarah had life-saving surgery, there are still days when she wishes she had died on the surgery table. Even more than 2 years later, her tough recovery is going.
When she arrived home from hospital, Sarah's dog, Milo, ordinarily an excitable little thing that normally jumped all over her, sensed something was up. In Sarah's words:
“When I walked into the house, he sat at my feet, sniffed me and started licking me. It was as if he knew I was sick and fragile. It made me cry to see the way he reacted to me. So gentle and mindful, very different to how excitable he usually was.”
Confined to the house for the next 6 months, Sarah attributes her strength in recovery to Mil: “because he is so dependent on me, it gave me a sense of purpose at the time. Something that I was responsible for.”
Not long after, Sarah was clinically diagnosed with depression, although she suspected she had the symptoms since the brain trauma.
“I recall breaking down at home and just falling to the ground in desperation. Milo gently licked my face and just sat near me. He was like a friend that would just listen, with no judging. I guess I wanted someone to share my feelings with, but I was too scared to tell anyone. Milo was the perfect ear.”
Sarah still battles with mental illness. But she has 2 magnificent dogs to help her through.
Pets Can Help You Deal With Depression!
I hope you have found these moving tales as inspiring as I have. If you are struggling with depression and feel like nothing works, why not take action after reading these personal accounts and find a pet who can become a special and valuable part of your life?
This doesn’t necessarily mean going to the pet store – there are plenty of ways that you can help animals as much as they can help you. Consider adopting a pet from your local shelter or animal welfare organization, or taking one or more of your friend’s pet’s latest litter off them!
Remember that if you feel nobody else will listen, your pet will. If you feel nobody else is there for you, your pet will be. Most importantly of all, if you don’t feel that you have the energy to take responsibility for yourself, at least take responsibility for your pet.
Even if you don’t feel like you have the strength or energy to take on responsibility for the life of another creature right now, why not work up to that responsibility in stages – start, for example, by volunteering once a week at your local pet shelter. This way, you can be surrounded by animals without the ongoing responsibility you may not yet feel ready for. But be warned – these animals can capture your heart quickly!
Do you have a pet? Do these stories resonate with you? We’d love for you to share your experiences with us!
Owning a pet can be a natural way to treating depression and part of an overall treatment strategy. My new product, Beating Depression, offers handpicked, trusted resources compiled together to help you understand the importance of companionship (animal and human), exercise and diet, as well as finding the right professional help where needed. It’ll get you on the road to treating and beating depression, whatever stage you’re at.
So for more practical advice on beating depression, check out Beating Depression today!
“There is no greater feeling than to know you earned an animal's trust.” Alison Stormwolf.