Written By: Mark Neff, President & CEO of Forsyth Humane Society
At Forsyth Humane Society, we believe in the power of the human-animal bond and its importance in promoting mental health and well-being. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are reminded of the significance of mental health and the resources available to support those facing mental health challenges. This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, “Tools 2 Thrive,” emphasizes practical tools that help improve mental health and well-being. One tool in the mental health support toolkit is the human-animal bond, highlighting the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals.
Research has shown that interacting with animals can positively improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with social bonding and stress reduction, is one of the primary ways animals benefit mental health. This hormone is released when humans interact with animals, leading to feelings of calm and relaxation.
In addition to releasing oxytocin, interacting with animals can improve social skills and provide a sense of purpose. For individuals who struggle with social anxiety or feel isolated, having a pet or participating in animal-assisted therapy can provide opportunities for social interaction and help to build meaningful relationships. Caring for an animal can also give us a sense of purpose and help us get out of bed in the morning. If you are looking for a furry companion, you can view our adoptable animals at https://forsythhumane.org/adopt/how-to-adopt/
Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that involves partnering with animals to treat mental health disorders. This therapy can include working with trained therapy animals, such as dogs or horses, in a clinical setting to help individuals work through challenges related to mental health. Equine therapy, in particular, effectively treats PTSD and other mental health disorders. Locally, Elite Canine Comfort Dogs visits organizations and assisted living communities for animal-assisted therapy.
Volunteering with animals is another way to cultivate the human-animal bond and improve mental health. Many organizations, including Forsyth Humane Society, rely on volunteers to help care for animals. Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, as well as opportunities for social interaction and connection with others who share a love of animals. You can learn more about volunteering with Forsyth Humane Society at https://forsythhumane.org/volunteer/ Coming soon, members of our community can take a dog from the shelter for a Dog Day Out field trip as another way to volunteer your time and receive a mental health boost.
Forsyth Humane Society is an animal welfare organization that celebrates the wellness of companionship. We are committed to promoting the human-animal bond and its role in supporting mental health. Whether through pet ownership, animal-assisted therapy, or volunteering with animals, interacting with animals has been shown to have numerous benefits. Companionship reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves social skills, and provides a sense of purpose. We also want to destigmatize conversations around mental health and promote resources available to those suffering in silence. A cat scratching at your bedroom door, asking you to get up to play during a depressive episode, or walking a dog through a beautiful park is a small dose of medicine that benefits everyone. As we continue to observe Mental Health Awareness Month, let us remember the importance of the human-animal bond and the resources available to support mental health and well-being.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s important to seek immediate help. Here are some directions to contact a suicide hotline:
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 988. This hotline is available 24/7 and offers free, confidential support to individuals in crisis. Or visit: https://988lifeline.org/
Please note that while these resources can provide immediate help, they are not a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or experiencing a medical emergency, please call your local emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.
Remember, reaching out for support is a brave and important step toward healing. You are not alone, and there are people who care and want to help you through this difficult time.