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Pets can help with depression

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'There are frightening statistics with regard to suicide rates in South Africa"

The emotional bond that pets can provide can make a real difference in the lives of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. Picture: Supplied

WITH World Suicide Prevention Day being observed today, experts have pointed out that pets can make a difference in the lives of individuals suffering from depression.

South Africa has the sixth highest rate of suicide in Africa and the World Health Organisation has reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15 to 29 year olds globally and that 79% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Marycke Ackhurst, Hill’s pet behaviour expert, says that the emotional bond that pets can provide can make a real difference in the lives of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety.

“There are frightening statistics with regard to suicide rates in South Africa and as a result we are pleased to be able to work with individuals who provide emotional support through specially trained emotional support dogs,” said Ackhurst.

Veterinary social worker, Dr Magdie van Heerden, says that there is no recipe or intervention with therapeutic animals that will work for everyone or always.

“Sometimes the individual may have a reaction, such as a smile and at other times there could be a change in behaviour or attitude.”

She cautions though that these animals are not therapeutic tools to be used just when needed.

“They too experience stress and their quality of life needs to be considered. Each case of depression needs to be treated differently and an emotional support dog can play a significant role in the treatment process, from providing cuddles on demand, stability and regular emotional comfort,” says Ackhurst.

Pet parents will testify to the fact that when going through a difficult time their dog is the one to pick up on their emotions and provide unconditional love and comfort, when humans sometimes just can’t.

Research has shown that pets can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and has even revealed that people with pets are happier, with improvements in self-esteem and improving social skills.

World Suicide Prevention Day highlights the alarming statistics and creates awareness of mental health issues, which are often overlooked.

“At Hill’s we know that a pet alone may not prevent suicide, but we have seen the results of the comfort a pet can provide. They help to alleviate loneliness and stress, and can get the pet parent outdoors, which can often be a momentous task for an individual suffering from depression. Pets, and in particular emotional support dogs, can provide some much-needed healing and support for individuals that are going through a difficult time,” Ackhurst concluded.

Individuals who may require emotional support are encouraged to contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group or the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.