If you have bipolar disorder you know how lonely it can be, especially when the lows set in. The feelings of depression can leave you feeling isolated, and this only adds to the loneliness.
Many people have found that by making one change in their life it is a little easier to manage their bipolar symptoms. They are spending time with a pet or an assistance animal.
Studies show that pets can help people with bipolar disorder deal with and better manage many of their symptoms. The loving attention of a pet can help pull you out of deep depression, control mood swings and even minimize some of the side effects from your medications.1
If you are ready for the responsibility of owning a pet, it can be a positive step towards managing your bipolar disorder.
Animal Companionship and Bipolar Disorder
Using pets for therapy isn’t new. Dogs and cats are frequently brought to hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up and provide companionship to the sick and elderly. They can also be trained to alert for seizures, guide the blind, and even help calm mood disorders.
There are actually a few ways the companionship of a pet can help you manage and deal with your bipolar disorder symptoms.
- Pets and assistance animals are comforting sources of support, and this is important. It can be hard for family and friends to always understand how your bipolar disorder affects your life. This can leave you feeling lonely and depressed. A pet is far more unconditional, loving and supportive, without judgment or questions. Their dependable companionship can help restore your sense of empathy, and minimize the severity of your symptoms.
- Service animals in particular can give you reassurance during manic episodes. If you frequently experience seizures, delusions or hallucinations during a manic high or low, this can be especially helpful. Some assistance animals are trained to “alert” a person if an unusual event occurs. The reaction of your pet will let you know if your perceived threat is real or imagined.
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common during episodes of bipolar disorder depression. Owning a pet can help you overcome and manage your lows. They force you to get up and go outside. Pets naturally attract people, and this puts you in a social environment. Being around other animal lovers can help reduce your feelings of isolation.
- Some breeds of dogs simply make you feel safer by their presence. This can be extremely comforting when you have bipolar disorder. Any type of mental illness can leave you feeling vulnerable. When you constantly feel unsafe, paranoia and anxiety often develop. Dogs are naturally loyal and their reliable presence can make you feel safe and secure. When your feelings of anxiety are reduced, you’ll find it easier to control your bipolar disorder symptoms.
- Pets can help children with bipolar disorder cope with their symptoms. This is important since feelings of isolation and loneliness can be more intense in younger children and teens. Animals can also provide comfort and support to kids where one or both parents suffer from bipolar disorder.
- One of the common side effects of many bipolar disorder medications is weight gain. For some people this is enough to cause a depressive episode. A pet requires exercise, especially dogs. Daily walks with your pet can help prevent unwanted weight gain. Walking also causes the brain to release “feel good” hormones, which can help you stabilize your moods.
- Oxytocin, a chemical in your brain that is associated with love and attachment, is released when you pet a cat or dog. When this occurs stress is reduced and emotional bonding occurs. Not only is this beneficial psychologically, but physically as well. Heart and respiratory rates, along with blood pressure all decrease when you spend time bonding with your pet.
It is important to remember that the companionship of a pet does not replace your medications and other bipolar condition treatments.
Bipolar Disorder and Service Dogs
The simple companionship that a pet can provide can be an invaluable tool when it comes to managing your bipolar disorder symptoms. Best of all, it really doesn’t matter what kind of animal it is. Dogs, cats, gerbils and even reptiles and amphibians can help you manage your mood swings, and lift you out of depressive lows. Service dogs however can give you additional benefits, along with constant companionship.
Many people mistakenly believe that a service dog is only for people with a physical disability, but they can also help with mental health conditions. This includes bipolar disorder. Some of the areas service dogs can be trained in are:
- If you have trouble remembering to take your prescribed medications, a service dog can be trained to remind you. They can also be trained to alert you to the doorbell, telephone and even smoke detector. Since drowsiness is a common side effect associated with bipolar medications, a service dog can reassure you that you won’t sleep through an emergency.
- A service dog can be trained to alert you at the onset of a manic or depressive episode so you can take the necessary steps to control your bipolar disorder symptoms.
- Dizziness and trouble walking and standing can be a side effect of some medications and a symptom of a manic episode. Service dogs can be trained to help with mobility and balance. When it is easier for you to safely move around you are less likely to stay housebound, and this can also help reduce depression.
- Hallucinations and paranoia can occur during a bipolar manic episode. This can be dangerous to you, along with friends and family. A service dog can be trained to alert you if there is a real threat. Simply by watching the animal’s reaction you’ll be able to tell if the threat is real or imaginary. If the perceived danger is only in your imagination you can take the steps you need to bring your bipolar disorder symptoms under control. Some people even report that the sense of security they get from their service dog prevents these symptoms from occurring.
Adopting a Service Dog and Bipolar Disorder
Extensive research and numerous studies have conclusively shown that animal companionship provides several physical and psychological benefits. These positive results are so well documented among people with bipolar disorder that a group has been founded with the goal of helping others manage their symptoms.
The Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) group believes that interacting with animals can have a positive therapeutic effect on bipolar disorder symptoms. Trained service dogs can help you cope with emotional crisis, and even remind you to take your medication on time. They can also be an important part of your support network.
If you are interested in adopting a service dog or having your pet trained as one, there are a few qualifications you both need to go through.
- In order to adopt a service animal your medical condition must be included in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). If your daily activities are limited due to bipolar disorder you have a good chance of being approved to adopt a service dog.
- In order for your right to have a service dog accompany you in housing or public settings under the ADA, the dog must have specific training to aid your disability and provide assistance for the disability. You do not have to carry a government license or certification in order to bring a service animal into a public place; however, by law, you can be asked by the owner or administrators of the setting what function or task does your service dog perform.
Even if you don’t qualify for a service dog, this doesn’t mean that you still can’t have the benefits of pet companionship. Many bipolar disorder patients have found that the emotional support they get from their pets is enough to help improve their quality of life.
What Type of Pet?
Before you impulsively bring home the first animal you see, it is important to make sure that your new companion will fit with your lifestyle. You also want to consider living arrangements and expenses. Some animals require more time, space and money than others, and choosing the wrong pet can make you miserable.
If you’ve never owned a pet before you might want to start off with something small and easy to care for. This way you can get used to the changes any pet will bring to your life. If you cherish the companionship and it is minimizing your bipolar disorder symptoms, then you might want to consider getting a second larger animal.
You can also find bipolar disorder support groups that provide animal companionship, either at their meetings or a prearranged location. This is a good way to get used to being around animals, and it might make it a little easier to choose the right one for your situation.
Remember to take it slow. Bringing home a service dog or any pet is a commitment and responsibility that you don’t want to take lightly. The right companion can make it easier for you to manage your bipolar disorder, while the wrong one could add stress to your life that could trigger a manic or depressive episode.