While many people with depression turn to family and friends for support, research has shown that enlisting the help of an unexpected companion -- a dog -- may also have a positive effect on overall health and well-being. As part of her commitment to helping people with the illness, Emmy Award-winning actress, Linda Dano, is leading Support Partners: Canine Companions, a new program that offers practical tips on how to expand support networks by incorporating dogs into the recovery process. The program is sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company and the Psychiatric Service Dog Society.
"Depression is an illness often associated with strong social stigma, causing people to withdraw from their lives, intensifying the emotional symptoms of the illness, like sadness and feelings of worthlessness," said Rakesh Jain, M.D., M.P.H., director of psychiatric drug research, R/D Clinical Research Center, Lake Jackson, Texas. "While a doctor, family and friends should form the basis of any support network, dogs can play an important role by being a constant companion. They can help reduce these emotional symptoms, while possibly helping other symptoms, like fatigue or lack of energy, with daily walks."
Research has shown that there are many potential benefits to having a dog that correlate to areas health-care professionals believe can help people with depression.
· The majority of pet owners feel their pets are extremely important when they are sad, lonely or depressed.
· Dogs can provide the desirable qualities of a best friend, like listening, physical contact and empathy.
· Half of people with a dog believe that their pet makes a major difference to their lives, ranking increased exercise and companionship as the two most important differences.
· Talking to dogs is related to greater life satisfaction and better physical and mental health.
Linda Dano, Support Partners: Canine Companions spokesperson, has personally experienced the benefits a dog can have in helping to manage depression. "As someone who has always been a dog-owner, my Lhasa apsos, Mo and Charlie, became more important to me than ever when I was diagnosed with depression," says Dano. "I started getting help from my physician and support from my friends, and soon realized that my dogs also gave me a sense of comfort, purpose and companionship. Many days when all I wanted was to stay in bed, alone, I knew I had to get up to take care of Mo and Charlie and comfort them as they comforted me."
Support Partners: Canine Companions offers a brochure that provides information about the benefits of dogs, the different levels of support a dog can offer someone with depression and easy, practical ways pet owners can immediately work with their dogs to include them in their support network. The brochure also provides those who are unsure if they have depression information about the illness and how to take the first step of asking for help.
"There are many simple things you can do with your dog if you're depressed that may help you feel better," explains Joan Esnayra, Ph.D., president of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, a nonprofit organization that works with mental-health consumers who wish to train their dogs to assist with the management of depression. "Taking your dog for a walk can help you get some exercise. Teaching your dog a new trick can give you a sense of accomplishment. Even petting your dog can help with your recovery by relieving stress and anxiety."