The Human-Animal Bond for Mental Health
May is Mental Health Month. One in five Americans will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year, and one in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. Today, people are facing a mental health crisis brought on by the pandemic, from the difficulties of being quarantined at home to experiencing job loss and economic uncertainty. In the face of these challenges, it is clear that pets can have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Scientific research has found that human-animal interaction (HAI) can help reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
The Physiology of the Human-Animal Bond
HAI has been shown to influence blood pressure, heart rate, and hormones correlated with well-being including oxytocin, b-endorphin, prolactin, phenylacetic acid and dopamine, all of which play a role in regulating mental health.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide long known to promote maternal care in mammals. Oxytocin causes many physiological changes, including slowing heart rate and breathing, lowering blood pressure, inhibiting stress hormones, and creating a sense of calm. Research demonstrates that human-animal interaction increases oxytocin levels in the brain.