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Veterinary Forum July 2007 (Vol 24, No 7)

Dogs may help people overcome depression

    INDIANAPOLIS — While many people with depression turn to family and friends for support, research has shown that canine companions may have a positive effect on a depressed person's overall health and well-being.

    "Depression is often associated with strong social stigma, causing people to withdraw from their lives and intensifying the emotional symptoms of the illness," said Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, director of psychiatric drug research at R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas. "While a doctor, family and friends should form the basis of a support network, dogs can play an important role by being a constant companion."

    Actress Linda Dano has become the spokesperson for "Support Partners: Canine Companions," a program that helps incorporate dogs into the treatment program of a patient with depression. Dano has experienced the benefits a canine companion can have in helping to manage depression. "My two Lhasa apsos became more important to me than ever when I was diagnosed with depression," Dano said.

    The program is sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company and the Psychiatric Service Dog Society.

    "There are many simple things you can do with your dog if you're depressed that may help you feel better," explained Joan Esnayra, PhD, president of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, a nonprofit organization that works with mental health consumers who wish to train their dogs to assist in the management of depression. "Taking your dog for a walk can help you get some exercise. Teaching your dog a new trick can give you a sense of accomplishment. Even petting your dog can help relieve stress and anxiety."

    The program is the newest component of the Support Partners national educational campaign dedicated to people with depression. Cosponsored by the National Women's Health Resource Center, Support Partners aims to open the lines of communication about depression and encourages a support-team approach to overcoming it.

    For more information:

    Serpell JA.: Evidence of long-term effects of pet ownership on human health: pets, benefits and practice. Waltham Symp 1999;20.

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