Dear NHS: The Search for EMDR Therapy by Eleanor

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(image: Freepik)

Today I am writing because I have had enough with the NHS mental health services.  Firstly, I was told that in my area of London, the NHS- national health service doesn’t fund EMDR (rapid eye movement processing therapy- for trauma and PTSD). Why, I have no idea as it is desperately needed. However, I was referred to IAPT wellbeing service (still under NHS), who do have EMDR therapists. Some telephone questionnaires later and I have found that I have been discharged from IAPT – to another team that doesn’t provide the therapy I so dearly need.

I have had years of therapy- CBT x3 and psychodynamic- most had to be privately funded due to the waiting lists in NHS. I need vital treatment for the trauma I faced of becoming so unwell,being in hospital and all I faced during mania and psychosis. My trauma comes out in anxiety and panic attacks which disrupt my daily living. EMDR helps process trauma and I am hoping it will help me to live fully again.

Due to this, the only option with therapy may be to go privately- which is expensive and not ideal for me- I can’t afford it alone. However, I have found an accredited therapist online so this will have to be the route I go down I think. I will speak to the psychiatrist in the other team but don’t hold out any hope as they don’t fund EMDR and there is a 2 year psychology waiting list. Yup, you heard that correctly, 2 years.

I am not doing so well- I have been feeling lower in the mornings and more anxious since having to leave my job. This was another blow today.

Yet….

I am trying to keep myself positive and focused and going. But some days, I just feel like hiding away.

Some positives- I am grateful for:

  1. My new bright pink cardigan is making me smile
  2. Our wedding photos and video come back today
  3. Finding a therapist
  4. Bipolar UK sharing about my book
  5. Love and support from others
  6. Job interviews and book promotion

When people say fund our NHS mental health services, they mean it. People like me are denied access to vital support and put on waiting lists or fobbed off. Its not OK.

Eleanor x

 

How stressed are UK Students in 2019? Guest post by the Natwest Student Living Index

 

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(Image: Natwest Student Living Index)

The NatWest Student Living Index 2019 has launched recently,  delving into both stress and mental health for students at university.
https://personal.natwest.com/personal/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html

University-age students are more engaged with mental health and wellbeing than ever, and the study found that 1 in 4 students are very satisfied with their university’s mental health support.

Other noteworthy findings from the survey include:
• 71% of students say that their university offers affordable health and wellbeing programs (gym classes, yoga, meditation, mindfulness)
• 40% of students are concerned about their financial situation following university
• 45% of students find their university degree stressful
• 1 in 4 UK students find managing money stressful

The 2019 NatWest Student Living Index revealed that close to half of all UK students feel
extremely stressed by their degree studies. 1 in 4 students in the UK described managing their money as extremely stressful, while only 6% felt they received sufficient money management support from their university on average.

NatWest’s Student Living Index 2019 asked students from 35 top university cities about all aspects of student life, including the amount of wellbeing and mental health support on offer for students at university in 2019.

Is their degree the cause of the stress? On average, 45% of students in the UK feel extremely stressed by their degree  Cambridge (60%) and Durham (57%) students are the most stressed by their degree studies.
Have Universities supported students with mental health resources?

1 in 4 students are very satisfied with their university’s mental health resources, while 71% said that their university offers affordable health and wellbeing programs.
Interestingly, while students in Poole feel the most stressed by money management, the city also came last when students were asked about the availability of affordable well-being programs:

 53% of students in Poole said their university offers affordable well-being programs, this is the lowest ranked city and 18% below national average.

 Less than 1% of Students in Reading and Stirling feel supported by their university when managing their finances.

 94% of students in Aberystwyth feel their university offers affordable well-being programs

Are you a student in the UK? Read more about the findings here:  https://personal.natwest.com/personal/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html

Can Hypnotherapy be used for insecurity and self-esteem? Guest blog by A Time to Change Hypnotherapy

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(image: hypnotherapyhorizons.com)

 

Frequently asked questions and useful information for you to know:

Low self-esteem and insecurity are common issues that weigh on people’s minds daily. Some people experience harmful effects of insecurity more severely than others and seek various methods of self-help. On the other hand, those don’t know how to safely deal with these emotions turn to more harmful methods of relief.

If you have tried countless self-help fads or simply try to continuously block out internalized negativity, hypnotherapy may be the solution for you.

What is hypnotherapy?

There are many hypnotherapy techniques, but they all involve inducing a state of hypnosis, or relaxed focus, to connect with your subconscious mind. This creates an open and reflective state of mind that addresses negative emotions and visualizes change. In other words, you can use hypnotherapy to bring about an intense awareness and focus for the change you desire in your own life.

Is there any science behind it?

Hypnotherapy relies heavily on the science of brainwave patterns. The brain is always experiencing a level of electrical energy. And when those waves are occurring within a certain frequency range, you’re relaxed, but awake – your subconscious is receptive to new behavioural suggestions. This is when a hypnotherapist can use visualisation exercises to guide you to a more positive outlook.

How can hypnotherapy help my self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is caused by a constant spiral of negative thoughts. These thoughts could be caused by negative emotions culminating from childhood trauma. Thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” and other harmful subconscious judgements will keep you down.

Low self-esteem also causes or increases the side effects of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and internalised emotional blockages.

Hypnotherapy for self-esteem creates new neural pathways that foster positive thoughts and emotions. Use hypnotherapy to rewrite negative mantras, from “I can’t” to “I can.” With hypnotherapy, you can change your harmful thoughts into positive thoughts about yourself and your surroundings. If you are looking for more resources A Time For Change hypnotherapy has incredible resources to help with issues ranging from vocational skill improvement and motivation, to managing unwanted behavior.

Can hypnotherapy cure my insecurity?

Like self-esteem issues, insecurity about one’s self and surroundings is common. Insecurity manifests in a variety of ways. You have insecurity if you experience a daily lack of confidence, have trouble speaking to strangers, or authority figures, can’t articulate what you need from your romantic partner, or experience paranoia that people are judging you.

Although hypnotherapy is not a cure-all, it can significantly turn around those negative thoughts and emotions related to insecurity. Seek out hypnotherapy for insecurity for help in choosing a romantic partner, performing work tasks with more confidence, and approaching life with a more positive outlook.

How many sessions do I have to attend to see results?

Hypnotherapy is a way for you to be in control of your subconscious mind. It helps you connect with subconscious memories, trauma, and negative thoughts in order to break old patterns and manifest positivity.

Some people might notice results within a few sessions, while others will need to work more at length with a hypnotherapist. Patience will lead to a continuation of positive thoughts.

Is there anything else I need to know about hypnotherapy?

Before your first visit with your hypnotherapist, make sure you are ready to see the change in your own life. Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool that is used to change the negative to the positive. However, always ask your healthcare provider for more information if you are dealing with serious mental illness.

 

This guest blog was written by A Time to Change hypnotherapy, based in the USA

 

The Anxiety Rollercoaster : Going beyond my Comfort Zone. by Eleanor

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(image: Pinterest)

I don’t really know where to start with this blog except I have needed to write this one  for several weeks. As many of you know, I struggle with an anxiety disorder (alongside/ part of the bipolar) which when triggered can make life quite difficult. This includes things that anyone would find anxiety provoking, such as job interviews.

I have had to dig deep, leave the house and use every ounce of strength to attend face to face job interviews in the past few weeks. This is not an exaggeration. My body floods with adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) and I feel overwhelmed. All my energy becomes consumed around preparing for the interview, attending the interview or NOT attending the interview because I wake up in a panic not wanting to go out- and having to try and reschedule it. Which just adds more stress as I fear I will lose the chance to interview.

This is really hard for me. There is still such a stigma to mental health issues that disclosing it early on without someone knowing you fully, means you are still less likely to be hired. Having to reschedule an interview also floods me with fear that the employers will think I am just flaky, even if I say I am unwell.

I am very proud of my achievements in the past month. Last week, I went to an interview and did well- travelled alone, was fine throughout. I even got a second interview. However, I woke this morning at 7am in anxiety and am seeing if I can reschedule it.

Essentially, this is one big test of exposure therapy. Reaching outside my comfort zone and going out into the world to use my skills. Its scary and exhausting. But it can also be validating and exhilarating too.

Today I feel a bit of an exhausted, worried mess. However, I refuse to let my panic disorder beat me. Next week, I have some positive things happening too re work.

For anyone else going through this- you aren’t alone. I take medication on time, I have had years of therapy and I still have panic attacks at times and struggle with the debilitating anxiety. I am searching for a new form of therapy (maybe EMDR- rapid eye movement) as I am concerned that my disorder mimics some PTSD symptoms, although that will need to be determined by a psychiatrist . I went through a lot in 2014 when in hospital and just before in a manic state and when I came home after and got back to work.  I wonder if this is what is behind the panic.

This is an honest assessment of whats going on. Despite the anxiety attacks, I have been able to see some friends. I am also still writing my book – deadline fast approaching.

Thank you to all my online twitter ‘cheerleader’ friends who sent me so many messages of love and support, of cute animals and inspiring quotes. You helped give me the strength to go to my interview and be ok. And to my friends and family in ‘real life’ too.  

If you are also struggling, keep fighting. I am always here for you to talk too.

Love,

Eleanor x

 

How I manage Anxiety and Psychosis : Guest post by Peter McDonnell for Time to Talk Day

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(image: Pinterest)

For Time to Talk Day, I want to share about my experiences of mental health. Yes, I have anxiety and yes, I have psychosis.  But no, I am not unhappy. On the contrary – I had a very good 2018.  And 2017, and 2016…lucky me. You see, I have learned how to manage them.  I learned how to manage them so they don’t bother me at all any more (he wrote, hoping not to invoke some sort of ‘commentators curse’) even if they do make me think of them many times each day.   I’ve worked hard and learned so much about how to be happy and live a normal life anyway. 

My diagnosis in 2001 was “cannabis induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature” as worded by my first doctor.  It is the only diagnosis I ever had. Delusions of a grandiose nature meant, for me, that I thought I was the telepathic modern day Jesus- the only son of God, and was destined for the whole world to know it quite soon.  I picked up panic attacks in about 2004, which turned into general anxiety.  The panic attacks mostly stopped in about 2006 after giving up cannabis for good and being put on Clozapine.  Clozapine is used for people who are non – responsive to other drugs, it was described as a last resort and the phrase ‘miracle cure’ even got passed around.  Genuinely.  It worked incredibly well for me and I even think fondly of it – “my favourite drug”.

I work on a mental health ward now (four to be precise) part time, and I am always getting into chats about a multitude of experiences with the mental health system and recovery with patients and often with their parents who come to visit them.  It feels almost like a duty for me to do that.

I see patients/parents on the PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) ward that don’t know what to expect in the coming years as they are often new to being in the system and it can be scary. I remember my mum saying to me two years ago – “When you first got ill I thought you might never recover or be able to live a normal life.”  So for parents it is worrying that a future like that might be on the cards for their offspring. And not knowing makes it worse.

 So how can I not try and give some information about that sort of thing?   

In a nutshell, some people (like myself) have a tough few years then begin a steady road to recovery, for me initiated by finding a very good medication.  Others are able to spend a few weeks or months on a mental health ward and then go back to their jobs and do really rather well. We are all different. 

This is a short post with limited room, so I’ll focus on what was for me the most important thing that enabled me to get on with my psychosis and anxiety – from managing them to not even caring that I have them.  

Perseverance – but please don’t look away!  Whether it’s just me or not I don’t know, but I often find that word difficult when reading a mental health article.  Maybe it’s because it implies that hard work is coming. But it has been what works for me from 2007 – 2014 while I was learning how to manage my illness.  

I had to push myself to socialise again and again, and my mum had to do the same. She trained as a psychiatric nurse a while back and is very smart. She knew that pushing me relentlessly for a long time was the best thing.  I went to social events even though I knew I’d hate them, for about three years. The worst part of it was that I knew if I gave in to the difficulties and stayed home the anxiety of having to go out would fall away – my mum really had to drag me out of the house sometimes.

 It made it easier in the beginning going to smaller events that were closer to home – that’s what I would tell myself in the first few difficult minutes. But I did always feel a little bit proud and encouraged when I got home – a feeling that stayed with me in a tiny but growing amount.  I had learned that these things honestly do get a bit easier each time, even though my panic attacks were very unpleasant, and thinking that “everyone at the restaurant can hear my negative thoughts, won’t like me for it and I’ll stick out like a sore thumb” didn’t help either.

So honesty time – I still think I have telepathic abilities – part of my illness, a belief that I just can’t shake off.  It surfaces on occasion when I’m watching TV or even in the middle of socialising. I have learned that going back to my likely imagined telepathic ways (part of my psychosis) just opens up a can of worms.  It’s not what I want. With the TV I can always change the channel which is at worst annoying but often I find something better to watch on another channel so who cares?

I rarely get these strange ideas of telepathic communication while socialising.  It’s like thinking that someone may have just heard one of my thoughts, and then I can hear in my mind what they thought about hearing that thought.  Sometimes it happens when I’m sitting on the loo. A person doesn’t need to be the object of my visual and auditory focus, though that’s when the communication seems strongest.  If I am socialising I just take a break  and this works fine. It’s my mind now, and I tell it to work for my benefit and it usually does.

I feel so lucky to have recovered so well.  I know that some people don’t. I owe so much to the simple but also difficult element of perseverance.  

 

About the author

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Peter is a writer who writes articles on his own website and also guest posts for other websites/ blogs.  He proudly wrote a 3500 word essay recently for The Taylor and Francis Psychosis Journal which they published in their 2018 edition.  He is also working on his book, a mental health memoir. Peter has several part time jobs.

His website is  petermcdonnellwriter.com

Twitter  @PeterMcDonnell_

https://mobile.twitter.com/PeterMcDonnell_

Facebook as Peter Edward Mcdonnell 

https://m.facebook.com/peter.e.mcdonnell

We are a Vuelio Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog! 2018 Award

Today I got an email from the lovely people at Vuelio to say they have listed us as Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog.

We are number 8, alongside some incredible blogs and organisations such as the Mental Elf and Mental Health Foundation as well as blogger friends of mine- check them all out .

Thanks so much Vuelio! This award is important as it is about being influential in our industry so am so happy to recieve it.

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See the list here: https://www.vuelio.com/uk/social-media-index/mental-health-blogs-uk-top-10/

Womens Health Awareness and Taking Action: Guest post by Sarah Cardwell

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(image: Sarah Cardwell)

I remember wanting to start my periods when I began secondary school. I had no idea what to expect, but it just felt like it would be the first step in growing older, becoming an adult. Within 6 months of starting I hated it. I had horrifically heavy & painful periods since the age of 13 and my mum always suspected I had endometriosis, the same condition she had been diagnosed with.

I never struggled to get pregnant with either of my two children, but with a heavy first natural baby of 10lb 7oz, it was decided after many scans that I would have a planned caesarean with my second daughter. She was only 7lb 11oz. When my periods returned after my second baby, I knew I had to do something.

After months of pursuing issues, and aged just 30, I eventually took my mum along to my appointment  and was referred for a laparoscopy. It was then that my mums suspicions were confirmed & they found signs of endometriosis.

On average it takes 7.5 years from onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis, according to Endometriosis UK (https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures). It has taken almost 17 years for my diagnosis. The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.

It was then I asked for a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) & was rejected.

Hysterectomies are known to treat endometriosis well:

• With mild endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 4 out of 100 women

• For severe endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 13 out of 100 women within three years and 40 out of 100 women within five years.

https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/sites/default/files/files/Information/

And I’m in good company, with many celebrities having hysterectomies for many reasons, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Heaton to be two of them. Lena Dunham too had her hysterectomy due to endometriosis. 

I was told I was too young and was offered a range of treatments from the coil to the pill, I even was treated with hormones to replicate the feelings of the menopause to see how my body would react, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues.

After six months it reacted brilliantly, no periods, no pain. I thought I was cured, but they said I couldn’t continue on the treatment due to risks of osteoporosis . I was in pieces and soon back to having periods spending days of my month in bed unable to move.

It was another 2 years of trialling medications & eventually changing my gynaecologist, before I was finally booked to have a hysterectomy operation. I was ecstatic. It was booked in February for the June of 2015 following my family holiday, I couldn’t wait.

However, things were about to take a turn for the worse. In March (the following month), my mum was informed that they had found a tumour where her ovaries had previously been, and within six short weeks she had passed away. It was the most awful time of all our lives, although thankfully she was surrounded by her family as she passed away. She had made me promise to go through with the hysterectomy, but to request and ensure they removed both my ovaries, even though they were healthy. So I did. In June 2015 I had a Bilateral total hysterectomy.

I knew I was very young at 32 to lose everything that made me a woman, but this was more than pain relief now, it was about survival and securing my future with my children.

The procedure went well and I recovered quickly, I was back at work part-time within 2 weeks, probably due to being a younger patient, but it didn’t have the same impact on my menopause symptoms. I suffered and still do, with every possible symptom, night sweats, hot flushes, weight gain, moodiness, although I think those closest to me would say that had always been there it just worsened.

Whether it was connected, it was then that the rest of my health deteriorated. I was never super fit or thin since my teens, but over the next year I gained almost 3 stone, started with severe anxiety and following an asthma attack after a serious lower chest infection, I was finally diagnosed with adult onset asthma. These of all could also have contributed to my recent spiral in mental health illnesses, but I still believe it was the right decision.

At 35 years old, I am on HRT and more medication than most pensioners, but I’m still here. I’ll be on most of my medication for life, but my HRT for a minimum of 20 years until I’m the average age for a natural menopause.

I wish my mum was here, as she too went through early menopause after her hysterectomy and I’m sure she’d have some tips that beat ice cubes down my top and lining my bed with ice packs to keep me cool in the night.

She’d hopefully have some advice on last summers rare heatwave in the UK, but sadly she was only 54 when she passed away and she inevitably saved my life and helped preserve my life so I can live beyond that she and be there for my children. And this hysterectomy added another layer of protection!

For more information please check out the resources above.

This article was written by writer Sarah Cardwell- who also experiences anxiety alongside her other health conditions. Check out her blog here: www.sarahsthinkingagain.blog

‘What its like wedding dress shopping as a curvy bride to be’ (focusing on mental health and body image) for Glamour UK by Eleanor


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(image: Glamour UK)

Here it is, my GLAMOUR UK article on being a curvy or plus size bride.

 
This one is understandably a very personal one but I wanted to investigate about body image, self esteem and how it affects mental health. As women we get taught what is ‘correct’ in terms of body shape and what isn’t- especially with the rise of social media.
 
I have put on weight over the years due to medication for my bipolar and its not easy. I am yet to go wedding dress shopping (going soon) but the brides I spoke to often had.
 
Thank you to the brides Rachel, Emma, Lauren and Reva for telling me their own courageous stories.
Thanks to the expert psychologists Nicola Walker and Jessica Valentine and Karen at Smashing the Glass wedding blog. And to my editor Bianca London at Glamour.
 
Happy reading, click here: 
 

7 reasons why 30 days of Yoga enhances your lifestyle by Meera Watts

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You are probably fully aware of how beneficial yoga is for your mind and body. When you commit to it for 30 days, you will really begin to feel those benefits.

A practice like this is known as sadhana in Sanskrit, which means “dedicated practice.” You will definitely become more flexible and release tension on a daily basis.

The benefits go much deeper than this though. All aspects of your life will improve. You will mentally feel better about yourself just for the effort of getting on the mat every day. When you feel good about yourself and take action for your own self-care, life will get better for it.

Here are 7 reasons why 30 days of yoga will enhance your lifestyle.

1. You are More Able to Relax

When you’re able to relax, you can enjoy little moments in life far better. Yoga has been proven to reduce levels of cortisol by relaxing the central nervous system. Poses, or asanas, in yoga, will help relax all the tension in your body. You begin to regulate your heartbeat when you do yoga daily. This helps you to deal with stress far better as well.

If you have problems with sleeping because your mind won’t shut down, yoga can be beneficial for this as well. Chronic insomniacs have been able to break the cycle of sleepless nights from starting a daily yoga regime.

It helps to calm the mind and body. You might even want to do a few relaxing poses before going to bed.

2. You Feel Better About Yourself

It’s easier on your body to do yoga for 30 days straight as opposed to weight training or other intense exercises. It might be hard at first but the progress you make in the practice will improve how you feel about yourself.

Whatever your reasons are for going through a 30-day yoga practice, you will get a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose will make you feel good about yourself. Being dedicated to something and sticking to it can create a habit of commitment within you. You will have a greater sense of trust in yourself as well.

It starts with 30 days of yoga but you’ll likely move onto do more yoga or other types of physical activity. Doing something active daily is good for the mind and the body. Once you get into the habit, you’ll always want to improve.

3. Your Body Will Become Stronger

Although yoga wouldn’t be considered a direct way to lose weight, it actually can. You don’t burn a lot of calories but you do gain more muscle. Muscle eats fat so it is an indirect way to improve the body.

Doing yoga for a while 30 days will help your metabolism so you’ll burn fat more easily. Your weight will normalize through yoga because it restores hormonal imbalances. You also become more mentally stable when something arises and you feel stressed.

You’ll hopefully be able to manage the ebbs and flows of life because you’re more centered.

4. Better Posture

As you’ll be doing yoga for 30 days straight, you’ll be able to properly counteract bad posture. This will be a noticeable improvement.

As you stand in Mountain Pose, you’ll be pulling your shoulders back which will probably feel uncomfortable for a few days. As you continue with your practice, you’ll notice that it’s easier to stand with your shoulders back.

You’ll be focusing on your posture and how your body is functioning, which will help you focus on it while you’re off the mat. Many of the poses stretch out the areas of the shoulders and back that are compromised from slouching.

5. Mindfulness Makes You More Conscious

You may not realise all of the things in your life that you’re grateful for. Most of us just live every day and don’t really think about we have. We think about what we don’t have, what we want, and other things.

Mindfulness is a large part of the full yoga picture. It is where we let go of the ego mind, which is that inner chatter you’re hearing all the time. When you’re present in the moment of now, there can be no depressive or anxious upsets.

This allows you to open up to what is happening for you right now. When you’re more conscious, it’s easy to appreciate moments, you are more easily grateful for what you have. You become happier and more at peace.

Also, you’re not missing out on your life. It’s unravelling in front of you and you are there with it. The conscious thought brings a great deal of fulfillment into your life while eradicating self-critical, worrying thoughts.

6. You’ll Become Better at Breathing

Breathing is important for the health of your physical and mental state. When you get anxious, you will experience a shallow breath. This makes you feel more anxious. If you can learn how to breathe deeply into your lungs, you can calm yourself down instantly.

During yoga, you will probably feel very relaxed so you can safely hone those deep breathing skills. Then in times when you need it, you will be able to automatically breathe into your belly.

7. You’ll Be Able to Focus Better

Yoga sends a lot of oxygen to the brain, which helps to promote mental functioning. In addition, the lack of anxiety allows you to think more clearly. This can help you in your work life with productivity or in running a household.

When you’ve completed your 30 days of yoga, you will know that your life has changed. You have trained the mind and body to work in the most optimal way. You will see the benefits that manifest into your outside life and how it enhances the lifestyle you’re living. You’ll be fit and feel generally happier. Yoga can teach us a lot and you will understand this when you commit to the practice.

Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes, and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga.

Website:  https://www.siddhiyoga.com/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/siddhiyogaacademy

Instagram: https://instagram.com/siddhiyogainternational

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/siddhiyogainter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/meerawatts

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meerawatts

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/siddhiyogateachertraining

 

Can Animals and Pet Therapy help our Mental Health? Guest post by Dawn Prime

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(image: http://www.usatherapydogs.org/)

Can animals help our mental health? Approximately one in four people in England will experience a mental health issue each year (YouGOV). Every mental health issue is individual, and every situation is different; this can be shown in many forms including stress, anxiety and depression. Living with a mental health condition can affect many aspects of our daily life, with many describing it to be a lonely and isolating experience, whilst others withdraw from social interaction.

So, can animals help with mental health? In my experience they certainly can, and the therapeutic power of pets has been well documented. I believe that this is done in a number of ways, from improving mood, to calming down and giving a sense of purpose.

Whether it’s dogs, cats, rabbits or fish – each animal has a way to help and offer great companionship to those experiencing and overcoming mental health.

Mental health benefits associated with pets include:

* Decreased anxiety

* Reduced loneliness

* A known sense of comfort and safety

* A greater improvement of self-esteem and confidence

* Help in depression

At the best of times a pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation, and in many ways they can help us all to live mentally healthier lives.

Caring for a pet gives our day a purpose and reward, similar to that sense of achievement in say, looking after a child. For example, owning a pet – especially a dog – means you will need to go for walks, which can often lead to conversations with other dog owners along the way, so simply put, it’s helping someone with mental health stay connected and less withdrawn in a social circle. Social anxiety can be a major hurdle to overcome but by having a dog, you have a ready-made conversation, as dog owners like to talk to other owners about their dogs!

Pets can also give owner’s incentive to remain calm – most pets are generally cute or cuddly and have the ‘awww’ factor, however our pets’ mood, at times, can very much reflect our own, so if we feel sad, our pet could be too.

Commanding and teaching our pet brings confidence and reassurance, and in time this will naturally train our own brains to let go of any negative stress. Unlike people, pets won’t judge your illness, so many people find it therapeutic to talk to animals as they listen – remember they are non-judgmental, and who knows they might just understand!

We can take stroking our pet as something we sub-consciously do whilst we watch the TV or read a newspaper, but did you know that stroking a pet can, at the same time, stop our minds drifting into negative thoughts.

Our mind releases feel good endorphins, so can make us feel better and calmer. The simple act of stroking a pet is also well known to lower blood pressure, as well as reducing physical and emotional stress.

Therapy animals also have a valuable role to play; often in a professional setting they provide comfort, support and can help to engage people. Therapy animals are trained to help people with mental health conditions such as depression and provide a calming atmosphere – with a typical therapy session involving the therapist, the animal and their handler.

Therapy pets can include “dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, rats, miniature pigs, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys and mini-horses,” as long as they’re at least a year old and have lived with their owner for six months (Pet Partners).

Personally, I have known people whose anxiety has improved since having a pet. They find it very comforting in having some company which isn’t human, and someone they know who will love them unconditionally. It is re-assuring to know that they have a responsibility for looking after someone else that takes their mind off their own problems, whilst having a positive impact on their own well-being – helping them cope with everyday life.

Finally, it’s important to remember that every pet is different and it’s vital to be aware of the commitments they bring, for example a dog will need good walks at least twice a day and a horse will need to be ridden out. If you are not sure about taking on a pet but want the benefits that are associated with being around animals, then there are many local animal sanctuaries which would value a volunteer.

Animals can be wonderful creatures and really therapeutic for our mental health.

This article was written by animal nursing assistant, health advisor and writer Dawn Prime.