Guest Post: How Companion Dogs Help People Bounce Back from Mental Illness by: Cindy Aldridge

Struggling with a mental health issue consumes a person’s life. They may look normal on the outside, but on the inside they’re barely keeping it together. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that one in every five U.S. adults experiences mental illness in any given year. If you’re that one in five, you’re not alone.


People who think they may be dealing with a mental illness should seek treatment with a physician or psychiatrist. They may prescribe therapy, medication, or a combination of both. But for some people, therapy and medication are not enough. To manage a mental illness, many people need a positive change that can help get their life back on track. That’s where a companion animal comes in. Adopting a dog can help you navigate your mental illness by giving you a built-in support system in your life. Dogs also provide comfort and affection when you need it and help stabilize your life so you can get back on track.


You’ve Got a Friend in Me


One of the best things about dogs is how they learn to love you almost immediately. The moment he realizes that he is yours and you are his, you become instant partners without hesitation. He will be by your side in the moments you need him, and he will always give you the benefit of the doubt.


For many people, adopting a dog gives them a sense of purpose in their life. If you aren’t around anymore, who will be there to take him for a walk in the morning or to play fetch with his favorite toy? That sense of purpose can help you get through each day until the days start getting easier themselves.


Practicing Mindfulness


For many people, mindfulness is the key to calming those voices we all get in our heads. You may find that spending time with your dog is the key to achieving that inner peace you get from being completely in the moment. People lose track of time just hanging out with their fluffy friend. The rhythmic nature of a game of fetch is hypnotizing in its own way. It’s also easy to waste hours just watching your dog be a weirdo.


Reconnecting with People


When you struggle with mental illness, you typically avoid social interactions with people. This leads to more feelings of isolation and can make it harder to get out of your slump. Dogs help people reconnect with the world around them. First, they give you something to talk about. Everybody loves hearing cute dog stories and sharing their own tales as well. Getting out and going to the dog park is an easy way to get to know your neighbors and provides an additional sense of security in your life. Taking Fido for a walk every day doesn’t just help you burn a few calories, it helps you connect with other people around you which is just as good for your long-term health.


Why You May Not Want a Dog


Think adding a dog to your life will provide you with the affection and structure to bounce back after a stage of mental illness? That’s great! There are a few things to take into consideration, though. Dogs aren’t cheap. They require regular visits to the vet, food, toys, accessories, dog walkers, doggie daycare, and a myriad of other expenses. Additionally, dogs require a lot of time. They need to be let out at least 3-5 times a day. Depending on the size of the dog, you may need yard space for them to run around and play. Plus, puppies can be quite destructive around the house, so adopting one means you’ll need to brace yourself for losing a few items.


If you aren’t at a place where you can be responsible for a dog, it may not be the right time to adopt one of your own. A great alternative is volunteering at your local shelter to play and walk with dogs who need help. You’ll get all the benefits mentioned above with the added bonus of knowing you helped animals in need. You can find an animal shelter near you through The Humane Society.


Choosing a dog for a companion can be a wonderful way to steady your erratic mind and provide you with a source of unconditional love. As long as you’re prepared to go the extra mile and take care of your pet the way it deserves, you’re setting the stage for the friendship of a lifetime.



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