Meet the furry friends that are providing support and companionship to those in need this Mental Health Awareness Week.
It’s smiles all round when these four-legged friends arrive at schools, hospitals, and offices and as we come up to Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), these unsung heroes are doing their bit to help out. This year’s MHAW theme is anxiety, and the importance of seeking help when it is needed. One of the longest advocates for mental health in Scotland, operating their ‘Paws for Stress’ campaign since 2013, is the Canine Concern Scotland Trust (CCST). They are a voluntary charity that aim to provide service users with the mental and physical benefits interacting with dogs can have.
The psychological benefits that animal-bonding can have on humans has long been researched and recognised worldwide. It has been proven that simply stroking an animal can lower heart rates, reduce blood pressure, and even regulate breathing.
“Through Paws for Stress our dogs visit universities and schools during exam seasons to help students chill out and create a diversion from other factors that may be stressing them in their lives,” states Canine Concern Scotland Trust director, James MacDonald.
“The dogs operate in a controlled environment in groups of 4-6, with each student getting 15 minutes with each dog.”
At CCST, they use trained dogs, volunteered by their owners, that go through various assessments to earn the badge ‘Therapet’. This Canine Crew spend each day visiting hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and many other places interacting with people to provide comfort and stress relief.
The charity also hosted a ‘Reading with Dogs’ event that encourages younger readers to grow their reading confidence through reading to the dogs instead of reading to other people.
“The idea was that the dog would listen to them with no judgement, allowing the children to relax and gain confidence reading aloud”, stated Canine Concern Trust Scotland.
Therapets Pixie and Abby, who attended the event, were highly beneficial for the young readers. “It was evident that one child was struggling with the words, but she carried on and as Pixie and Abby settled down, as did she.
“Her reading became more fluid, and she began to string more sentences together. By the end of the session, she had read nearly a whole book – something her mother said she would not normally do.”
Research by John Hopkins Medicine has shown that children who read to dogs begin to show increased social skills and fewer behavioural problems. This is due to the accepting and loving nature of a dog, they will not judge you in any way, only giving positive emotional reinforcements.
Not only do our four-legged friends help to reduce stress, but they can also help those in need with getting back into regular routines.
After an accident in 2019, Glasgow-resident Stephen Milloy got his therapy dog, Eva the Labrador. He stated, “She’s like my best friend and daughter in one, she is always around to cheer me up and helps get me out of the house when I don’t want to leave.”
“After my accident, I was feeling pretty low and had lots of free time, I found myself feeling negative all the time and struggled to get out of the house.”
Having owned Eva for some years now, Stephen gives advice to those in similar situations that may be seeking a furry companion to help with their mental health issues.
“Think about your lifestyle and hobbies, and then what pet would suit you best. Dogs are amazing but too many people get them, realise how much work it is, then give up. It’s unfair to both parties.”
Currently in Scotland, the NHS do not offer therapy dogs to those in need, it is up to voluntary charities to seek out those in need of their services. The individual must buy and train a dog themselves if they wish it to become a therapy dog. In turn, organisations like Canine Concern Scotland Trust, will come and assess the dog and grant it the title of Therapet.
For help with any of the issues mentioned, please reach out to the following organisations:
- Anxiety Care UK www.anxietycare.org.uk
- Anxiety UK 03444 775 774
British Association for Counselling and psychotherapy (BACP) www.bacp.co.uk