How Dogs Can Help Prevent Suicide
The winter months often lead to increased depression and thoughts of suicide. Dogs offer a unique form of furry therapy that helps get you out of your head.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but it’s an issue that people don’t like to talk about. Mental illness has a stigma attached to it that prevents people who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues from seeking help. Negative thoughts and behaviors become a habit and a self-fulfilling prophecy, to some degree, that can trap you and leave you feeling hopeless.
There are medications and other therapies available, but a pet can also help lift your mood when you’re feeling depressed you may find a pet to be a furry pick-me-up. Keep reading to learn how pets can help prevent suicide.
What Are the Risk Factors for Suicide?
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is no single cause for suicide. People who commit suicide often struggle with anxiety or depression, sometimes for months or years on end before they resort to such a permanent solution.
When someone commits suicide, it is a sign that whatever stress or strife they’ve been experiencing finally exceeded their ability to cope. Some of the warning signs for suicide include changes in behavior, development of new behaviors, talking about feeling depressed or trapped, feeling like a burden to others, and becoming increasingly withdrawn, and giving away possessions or saying goodbye.
How Can Having a Pet Help?
Many people who struggle with mental illness feel as if they are alone, or that no one understands. While a pet cannot actually understand what you are going through or provide verbal support, but dogs are actually capable of reading human body language and expressions. This means that your dog knows when you are in pain and some studies suggest that dogs are capable of empathy. At the very least, dogs are able to mimic facial expressions which may make you feel like they understand.
Another way in which having a pet can help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts is that they give you something else to focus on. When you are in deep psychological pain, it is easy to become trapped in a cycle of negativity – having a pet to care for may bring you out of that cycle, forcing you to focus on the here and now. Providing for a pet’s needs can be a helpful distraction from your negative thoughts and behavior, giving you a positive replacement. Studies have also shown that having a companion pet can reduce stress and improve your health. There is no end to the benefits a pet can provide!
While adopting a dog will not solve all of your problems, having a companion pet is immensely helpful for people who struggle with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. The simple act of caring for another living thing can provide a positive distraction and it may even give you a sense of purpose. Though having a pet is not a replacement for professional help, if you need it, the companionship a pet provides can help you cope and may help manage suicidal thoughts.