I am not saying that a cat companion can solve all mental health problems. That would be a ridiculous claim and I am not even necessarily saying that a cat companion can solve any mental health problem.
It is not about solving or curing mental health issues, in this instance. It is much more about making slight improvements. One step at a time. But this is the way to better mental health.
A cat and, of course, a dog companion can set a person on a road to feeling better. How does this happen? We don’t really know but we know that it does happen because there are countless stories of therapy cats in hospitals improving the state of mind of patients (which helps with getting better faster) and of cat companions slowing people down so that their heart rate is reduced. But the benefits are wider than that.
I think it is actually “a given” and it no longer needs to be proved or established that a cat companion helps with the general welfare of the cat’s caretaker.
I would think that, on occasions, a cat or a dog has been a lifesaver in terms of mental health. I am sure that there will be unreported cases where this has happened.
The first thing that caring for a cat does is that it creates a responsibility on the owner to care for the cat. If a person is feeling low and demotivated and if that person genuinely cares for their cat then the responsibility that that brings forces the person to do something and in doing something for their cat they are breaking the cycle of inactivity and despondency.
Responsibilities force us to do things whereas depression works in the opposite direction; it demotivates. The person becomes inactive which further exacerbates the problem.
I also believe that cat caretaking is beneficial to us. We need to express the nurturing instinct inside us – most of us have it.
I think also that interacting with a cat takes us back to basics (back to nature in other words). It occupies our mind at a very natural and emotional level. It strips out of the mind the things which can make people feel low. Often anxiety is an underlying cause of depression but often the anxiety is not founded in a real need to be anxious. It is just a general feeling of anxiety.
Sitting playing with a cat can, for that time, remove feelings of anxiety because the mind is occupied and there is a natural warmth in a close relationship with a cat companion which comes out when playing with her or simply being close to her.
Joanna Scanlan, an actress, puts it rather nicely I think. She says that, “it takes you out of your cognitive processes… And that’s quite a healing thing”.
She said that during times when you are unable to communicate to a human being “because your feelings are too complicated”, the simple affection between companion animal and human is a “safe haven”.
It keeps a person who is depressed functioning and hopefully moving forwards. There are many stories of children who have been unable to communicate with adults who have been brought out of that state through interacting with a cat or dog. Children probably feel safer and accepted by a cat or dog. Cats are non-judgemental. That’s important. They show us unconditional friendship.
Ashley on the healthline.com website, says that her cat Shadow has been at her side through the worst of her depression. She says that being in the same room as Shadow is therapeutic. Cats tend to sense when you are upset and come to you for a bit of support.
Of course, it goes without saying that a cat companion helps to alleviate any feelings of loneliness that a person might have. We know that loneliness is also a route to feeling down or even depressed.
I don’t think we should underestimate the power of a cat or dog companion to help with our mental health when we need it. I’m not saying that “mental health” necessarily means a mental health problem as set out in a medical dictionary.
I’m just saying that anyone can feel down for whatever reason and that emotion can last quite a long time. Caring for a cat or dog companion can help the person get on with life and build from that point going forward.