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National Love Your Pet Day – how pets support HPFT service users with their mental health and wellbeing

20 Feb 24

It is National Love Your Pet Day and an opportunity to reflect on the positive impact that pets have.

Pets can enrich our lives in so many ways, from providing companionship to helping reduce stress. At HPFT we know all too well the benefits that pet therapy has on our service users, supporting them with their mental health and wellbeing. They also bring joy to staff working on the wards.

Visiting animals have recently been introduced to a few of our inpatient services including our mental health and learning disability forensic services, and most recently our psychiatric intensive care unit.

Once a month, Performing Pets bring in a variety of different animals for our service users to hold and spend time with. Animals that have visited to date include rabbits, birds, an owl, budgies, a parakeet, an albino kangaroo, a pony, miniature pigs, sheep, dogs, lambs and kittens. This variety means that if service users do not like a certain animal there is always the opportunity to engage next time.

Lisa Ford, Professional Occupational Therapy Lead for Forensic Services, HPFT said:

“The pets are just fantastic from the moment they arrive at our units, they promote a positive environment, helping everyone who engages in the session smile. They also really assist our service users to talk to each other which is great to see, as interaction and communication between them can sometimes be a challenge. The animals bring that shared connection out of them that is often difficult otherwise, with service users sharing the space and the animal contact in a collaborative way.”

Lisa has many examples where the pets have really helped. One example involved a service user who was previously reluctant to leave his room and he has not missed any of the sessions since they were introduced. He has shown a real connection with the animals and on one occasion he sat with a kitten on his lap for over 40 minutes. When asked what he liked about their visits recently he said “I enjoy stroking the animals and it makes me feel calm when I do so.”

On another ward, the introduction of chickens (supplied by Performing Pets) has provided another service user with a positive role for himself in helping to look after them. Until this point he had really struggled with forming connections with others due to his enduring mental health challenges. However, he really bonded with the chickens, following the advice he was given in caring for them correctly, by Performing Pets. This brought out a gentler side to him, enabling him to talk about his struggles with relationships and managing his risks associated with his mental health diagnosis latterly too.

Des Jordan from Performing Pets said:

“Multiple studies have proven that animal assisted therapy improves mood, reduces developing depression and can support in decreasing the feelings of anxiety and sadness, as well as increasing physical activity.  Consistency of our visits helps to create good relationships, building trust and opening the mind to the ability of caring for another being when you are not feeling very cared for yourself. We have created good bonds with a lot of the service users who now actually see us as friends or companions, and look forward to our visits, all off the back of a little furry friend visiting for a little animal therapy.”

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