I started a psychiatry placement today and I met a lady who was severely depressed. However, she had very recently bought a puppy for her son, and since then she had been feeling a lot less low in mood, and was smiling a lot more. The puppy gave her a purpose - even just down to the fact that she had to move off the sofa to clean up its puddles of wee. Over the weekend she actually left the house to take her dog for a half hour walk. When we got to her house, she was outside cleaning up after the puppy; apparently previously she wouldn't even move off her sofa. She was engaging a lot more with her son, and would readily talk about the new dog when asked.
I honestly think that pets, especially dogs, can work wonders for people's mental health. They give people a purpose, and a reason to live. They provide lonely people with unconditional love. They force people to get out of the house, and think about something other than negative thoughts about themselves. They have even proven to lower stress levels and blood pressure (although Bruce definitely increases my blood pressure when he chases after people on a lovely Sunday run).
My dogs have been great for me during my lower times. They always seem to sense when I'm feeling sad, and will sit with me (or Bruce will jump on me and lick me... we all show affection in different ways, I suppose!). On the days that I just wanted to lie in bed, they would force me to get up and take them for a walk, which would help to clear my head a bit. They greet me at the door after a bad day, and give me unconditional love when I need it most. Bruce has even prevented me from hurting myself, by just sitting with me and giving me support in his own little way. I couldn't hurt myself when that little face was looking at me adoringly.
That's not to say that people with mental health issues should go out and buy a pet, and they are not going to cure a mental illness. Obviously pets require a lot of care and attention, but if someone is willing to give their time to do that then I think they are an amazing addition to have. Even a hamster - you would have to take the time to go out and buy it food, or clean out its cage. My pets have definitely helped make me feel better during my depressed times, and they make me even happier when I am feeling good.
Dogs are the best!
Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.