In my years of educating about depression and suicide, many people have told me that their attachment to their pets has been a primary reason they choose to keep on living. In fact, it is well-established in the mental health community that having a pet can improve a person’s sense of well-being. Over the years, I have seen people bond to their dogs, cats, horses, parrots, turtles and even snakes.
For many people, having a pet is like having a child and provides the same kind of deep emotional bonding. When this bonding occurs, the “love hormone” oxytocin is released into the bloodstream, creating feelings of pleasure. If you are feeling suicidal, these feelings of well-being can serve as a powerful antidote to the despair and depression that you are likely feeling.
A pet may become your primary source of love and support if you have no family or close friends nearby, and can help you make it through the times when you are waiting to receive professional support.
Here is a powerful testimony from Andrew, a disabled Army combat veteran who has experienced numerous suicide attempts and hospitalizations. His words demonstrate how a strong bond to a pet can tether you to life:
So great is this healing impact of animals on human beings that mental health professionals can now prescribe service dogs for individuals who suffer from psychiatric disorders.
Finally, for people like myself who are more drawn to felines than canines, bonding with cats can also keep us alive. During my third suicidal episode, I adopted a cat from the Humane Society. I decided to call him Gabriel, which means “God is my strength.” Over the next few months, nurturing Gabriel gave me a reason to stick around.
Using your own journal or the Your Pets Can Keep You Here form, take some time to reflect upon and answer the following questions.