The Mental Health Benefits of Pets

May 24, 2023

The Mental Health Benefits of Pets

Kaitlin Gallo, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer

There are many reasons people choose to own a pet. They provide companionship, comfort and help you stay active. While some people have registered emotional support animals, your furry friend doesn’t have to be registered in order to provide mental health benefits. 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies show interacting with animals can decrease cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. The benefits vary based on the individual’s needs and the type of animal. “There’s not one answer about how a pet can help somebody with a specific condition,” said Dr. Layla Esposito of NIH’s Human-Animal Interaction Research program. “Is your goal to increase physical activity? Then you might benefit from owning a dog. If your goal is reducing stress, sometimes watching fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness. So, there’s no one type fits all.”

Many colleges frown upon students keeping animals on campus, in some cases, unless they’re registered service or emotional support animals. However, a small number of schools are starting to allow students to bring their pets along with them to campus. In December 2021, Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania (a Christie Campus Health partner) announced that some of their newly renovated residence halls are pet-friendly. “W&J recognizes that pets can provide a friendly environment to pets, their owners, and pet lovers.”

Of course, owning a pet isn’t feasible for everyone. Some people may not have the resources or lifestyle conducive to caring for animals. Some may travel too much; others may live in housing where pets are not allowed. Then there are those who do not have the financial means to take care of an animal – and these are often people who could benefit from the support of a pet the most. To address this issue, there are organizations dedicated to removing the financial barriers that come with the cost of caring for a pet. Megan Mueller, an expert in the psychology of human-animal relationships, highlighted this point in a recent article in the Harvard Gazette. “Pets can provide a really powerful sense of purpose. There’s the routine of caring for a pet and the responsibility of caring for another living creature that can really provide this driving force for getting out of bed in the morning. That applies to all people, and we have to think broadly about how to support people being able to successfully have companion animals no matter what the circumstance.”

The staff at Christie Campus Health recently received a dose of “pet therapy” in the office. As part of Mental Health Action Day and Mental Health Awareness Month, a few canine friends visited the office so employees could take time out of their day to release stress by getting a few snuggles in with the pups.

Interacting with animals is just one of many ways to help college student mental health. Christie Campus Health offers colleges a wide range of mental health services for their students including our complete continuum of care that includes wellness, mindfulness, and resiliency programs alongside counseling and other mental health services. Christie’s 24/7 Clinical Support Line is also a resource for faculty and staff who may need in-the-moment consultation about a student of concern, which can support campus-wide efforts to engage faculty/staff in wellness efforts. Click here for more information about Christie Campus Health and our suite of offerings for colleges and universities.

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