Sunday, May 22, 2016

Using dogs to cure mental illness

I am not talking about deformities here, I am talking about illness, the two are different. Deformity can be termed as madness, there is a very thin line between mental illness & madness which at least in India, majority won't understand.

There are enough & more reasons for stress/frustration/depression in our country. My learnings about mental illness are:
-Every single person is prone to mental illness. Some people go through the toughest problems in their lives and are mentally fine, and some people go through the most minor issues but go into depression. It is totally dependent on the ability of the person to handle a situation in a particular way.
-The causes of mental illness can be two: one that is genetic and is developed through the course of one's life and two that is triggered due to an instance in one's life.
-When someone in a family goes through this illness, the entire family goes through extreme amounts of stress and there is at least one more life that gets dedicated to taking care of the patient. It is not practical to expect the family to dedicate their lives to that patient and let their lives revolve around the patient's. But a few years for sure are gone! And especially in middle class families, more complications get added for reasons I don't need to mention.

Due to the very low levels of knowledge on mental illness, people don't take the efforts to understand the illness and rather suggest variety of things to act as a silver lining, many suggest a new relationship - either a marriage, a new friendship, having a kid etc. Why not an animal?!

I visited my sister's home some time back and everyday in the morning while she leaves for office, there is a squirrel that visits her backyard and waits for her to offer a roti. The way that squirrel holds that roti in its hands and slowly breaks it into pieces and eats it is the epitome of cuteness. That is its daily 10-15 mins and watching that act is an extremely relaxing activity.
Similarly, there is a small cat also which is a regular visitor to her place for a cup of milk every morning :)
It is a way to distract yourself and get a smile on your face. The biggest positive about animals is they don't expect (rather, they don't need to) anything in return and so you don't have to worry the way you do with human beings. It is a relaxation with minimum (or as per choice) or no levels of commitment.

My strong belief is having animals around can reduce the chances of mental illness to an extent.

I am a dog parent for the past 8 years. Since I brought the dog home:
1. I never entered my home without a smile on my face.
2. I spent at least 30 mins every single day with my dog - playing or talking or just petting him. I read in a magazine sometime back that if you have a dog, you should spend at least 10 mins of your daily time to love the dog; something happens inside you (I didn't bother reading the details) which does many good things to your body.
3. I meet at least a few other dog parents every single day who are as happy as me, and when we meet no discussion of mine with them is anything to do with cribbing, complaining or any other unpleasant feeling in life or anything around - so at least 10 mins of happiness sharing every single day.
4. I meet many stray dogs and some of them walk the entire way with us. And some just come wagging their tail, they just want us to pet them once. The activity of petting that dog is doing something really nice to me and my body. I can feel that relaxation.
5. There is somebody around me to listen to me - ALWAYS!
6. I have walked at least 1 hour every single day - I have breathed the fresh early morning air every single day.
7. I was never alone, I am in my ME space but at the same time I have a company.

Dogs are slightly different from other animals because they respond to humans better than the others. I could not find much research around using dogs as mental illness therapy, but I have a strong hypothesis that they can act as great remedies! Long time back, I read an article in an in-flight magazine about an organization near Pune that trains dogs to act as therapy for autistic children. I searched on Google recently and found it, it is called "Animal Angels Foundation".

My dog may have reduced my chances of being prone to mental illness :)

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