Can Pets Improve Student Mental Health?

If you’re a student living away from home for the first time, it can be hard and sometimes lonely adjusting to your new life. More and more students are facing mental health challenges, but what if you could take a familiar friend from home with you?

The likelihood is, if you’re living in student accommodations, you might not be allowed to keep larger pets such as cats or dogs. However, many landlords will let you keep smaller animals such as fish, hamsters or even guinea pigs. 

Taking a pet with you to university or college not only makes the transition easier for you, but pets have also been proven to improve students mental health too. 

Here are three myths that we have busted and scientifically proven, relating to pets and mental health.  

Myth #1: Pets Can’t Reduce Anxiety

Having a pet can help to reduce your anxiety and stress levels, even a pet as tiny as the popular Guppy fish can help alleviate stress. 

A study carried out in the 80’s found that simply watching fish swimming in an aquarium can reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%. 

A second study conducted much more recently by the University of Exeter and Plymouth University found that watching fish ‘led to noticeable reductions in participants blood pressure and heart rate.’

Large animals can also help to reduce stress. This study, carried out in an educational environment found that just ten minutes of petting a cat or dog can reduce anxiety levels. 

If you’re feeling anxious at starting new classes, taking exams or even making new friends at your school, having a pet can really help to reduce anxiety and make student life as fun as it’s supposed to be for you. 

Myth #2: Pets Can’t Help Depression

Students that own a pet are less likely to suffer from depression than those who don’t. Larger animals such as dogs encourage their owners to get out and exercise and get some fresh air. 

Fresh air and walks are now being recommended by some doctors for people who have depression symptoms. 

Having a pet can help you connect with people from special interest groups, such as Fishkeeping Groups, Dog Groups or even Reptile Groups. 

Pets are very empathetic, and offer a lot of emotional support, especially since they can’t actually talk back! They just sit and listen, offering a really soothing presence. 

Even pets that are as tiny as crickets can help to alleviate depression symptoms. 

Myth #3: Having a Pet Will Make Me More Isolated and Lonely

Sometimes people think that if you have a dog or small pet which you need to take care of that you’ll be more isolated. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Firstly, having a companion living with you can make you feel less lonely. It’s someone to talk to when no-one else is around and is just generally nice company. 

Pets not only become great friends but can also encourage you to get out and meet other like-minded people who share the same pet or interests.

If your studies, being away from home and exams are causing you stress, or even depression, why not consider welcoming a new pet into your life?

If you can’t have any kind of pet in your dorm room, you should think about volunteering at a local animal shelter, or maybe becoming a local dog walker so you can interact with animals daily! There are also different ways to get your animal fix when you are on-campus–just keep an eye out for those stress-relieving events.

BIO: Robert Woods is an avid fish keeper and advocate for all things fish related, including the many mental health benefits which can be derived from keeping fish.