Living with a mental health condition is overwhelming, at times terrifying, isolating and debilitating. The persistence of trauma and the reactivation by triggers often makes this even worse.

It can be hard for people with a mental health condition, particularly Veterans, to seek help because they feel ashamed and would prefer to hide their problems. People with mental health problems may not be aware that what they have is a mental illness that is treatable. They can find asking for help scary and they may not even know what they are asking for help with.

Veterans suffering from mental health problems often say the best services are ones where they are listened to, treated as equals, and are given support or treatment that works for them. Veterans often do better when seeking help where they are understood, with supportive caring people who are non-judgemental. This is part of the basis from which we work with our Veterans.

There are several models of recovery for mental health illnesses that include factors such as personal development, learning, healing, and adaptation, as key to recovery. Reducing social isolation is an important part of the recovery process, and understanding mechanisms for reducing isolation and improving quality of life can help facilitate recovery. Dog ownership has been identified as one such method of reaching these goals.

Benefits of Dog Ownership

Animals deliver proven physical, psychological and health benefits for their owners and have important benefits for society as a whole.

Modern lifestyles can create loneliness, isolation and a sense of vulnerability. Dog ownership provides companionship, gives immense pleasure and reduces stress levels, without the complications of human relationships.

Dogs also help to build social networks within the community, creating opportunities for greater social interaction.

A shared interest in dogs brings together people from all walks of life. Dogs can help to initiate conversations between strangers in public places, or be the basis more for structured social activities such as dog showing and dog obedience classes.

Recognising the Health Benefits of Dog Ownership:

  1. Dogs are a great stimulus for exercise. Dog owners exercise more!
  2. Playing with a dog can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm & relax
  3. People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without dogs
  4. Dog ownership is associated with lower levels of stress and depression
  5. Increased psychological well being
  6. Increased survival after a major illness
  7. Increased opportunities for social interaction

Benefits to dog ownership, according to research:

  1. Children who have dogs tend to be more self-reliant, sociable, and less selfish than children without pets
  2. Elderly people with dogs are better able than non-pet-owning elderly people to cope with daily activities
  3. Owning a dog gives isolated people a routine, a sense of purpose, and a sense of fulfillment that helps prevent depression and loneliness
  4. Stroking and patting a dog can be relaxing, which is measured by a slower heart rate and a drop in blood pressure
  5. Owning a dog can help reduce the risk of asthma
  6. Dog owners are more likely to survive heart attacks than non-pet owners are
  7. The presence of a dog can ease the effects of Alzheimer's
  8. People with dogs have been found to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels when compared to those people who do not

Dogs provide a wide range benefits to the sick and disabled, and assist those in need of greater independence e.g. guide dogs for the blind, assistance dogs for the disabled. Dogs are widely used for therapy in hospitals, prisons, psychiatric institutions, nursing homes and schools. Several Australian studies have shown quantifiable links between pets and better health. Owning a dog is associated with better cardiovascular health and lower levels of stress and depression.

Research conducted in Australia and Germany has shown that pet ownership is associated with better human health. Dog and cat owners use the health system less than non-owners; they make fewer annual doctor visits and spend less time in hospital.

Dogs enhance preventative health measures in the community

through companionship, stress reduction, exercise and assistance to

those who may otherwise depend on Government funded assistance. The long

term health benefits of owning pets lead to savings in national health

expenditure. For the year 2000, these savings were estimated to be

Euros 5.59 billion for Germany and $3.86 billion for Australia.