Dogs and Depression

24 CommentsSunday, 1 November 2015  |  Kate

How Dogs Can Help With Depression.

I never realise just how tense my body is until I'm on the beach with my dog. I never realise just how loud my own voice is inside my head, until I am on the beach, with my dog. I don't notice how jumbled up and anxious I am, until I am on the beach with my dog.

Then, over a matter of a few minutes, my body relaxes, my conscious mind is able to tell my subconscious mind to back off for a while and the anxiety dissolves out of my system entirely.

Today the sun is shining, it's early on Sunday morning and the tide is only half way in. I live in Worthing, West Sussex, where the outgoing tide can leave a few hundred metres of sand, it's so flat. Which means that it also comes in pretty quickly too. So this morning all the dog walkers are out, meandering along the wide strip of sand, pebble pools and rivulets of running water gleaming in the sunshine before the waves gobble it all up for another 12 hours, leaving us confined to the coastal path.

The beach is a brilliant place to exercise dogs because the tides bring new smells every time they cover the sand, so the dogs have to get to know it all over again, every time they visit. Great stimulation for a dog. And for me too as storms mean the beach is in a constant state of flux, offering new sights every time I set foot on the sand.

I lived by the sea for over seven years before I was finally in a position to have a dog in my life full time. In the first six months since I got her I have been to the beach more times than I ever visited in the preceding seven, and what having a dog has done for my mood is nothing short of remarkable.

Having a dog is like having a child in that it's really hard work and extremely rewarding at the same time. Except that kids are allowed into most seaside cafes whereas we're left out in the pouring rain, trying to lick froth off our coffees before the wind whips it away! A lovely exception being the Bluebird Cafe at Ferring, which welcomes well behaved dogs and does a really good bacon sandwich into the bargain.

Back to my brain. I suffer from depression. Most of the time it's under control but I really need to look after myself to keep it that way. I have to sleep well, exercise, eat right and reduce my stress levels. All of which are hard to do. The hardest for me though is to keep myself in contact with family and friends. Not a problem when I'm fine, but when I'm going through a bad dose of depression talking to people is the last thing I want to do.

Before I got a dog I could happily not see or speak to anyone in particular for days. I wouldn't answer the phone, would fob friends off with an excusatory text message and take to the sofa for days at a time. When I'm really bad, the anxiety and sense of worthlessness are so overwhelming that the mere thought of showering and dressing are just too much.

Since Nikita came to stay I've had only one truly horrible weekend, I was grieving over something lost and feeling a loneliness I hadn't known in years. But I know that if I hadn't had her it would have been much worse and taken a lot longer to get over.

She had to be walked. I had to get out of the house and onto the beach. The sun shone, the sea sparkled, I felt like I wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear, that doesn't change, but I do believe it passes more quickly because you're outside. You realise that the world is still turning and that you belong in it, instead of just bricking yourself up, mentally speaking, and hiding from a world that actually quite likes you, even if you're having a hard time liking yourself right now for no good reason. Even if you don't engage in a long conversation, there are still the cursory hellos and shy smiles with a fellow walker as your dog gets into a game of chase with theirs.

Nikita needs to be walked, mentally stimulated, played with and loved. In return she plays with me, loves me back and keeps my head above water, psychologically speaking without even knowing it.

If you're the type who suffers debilitating depression where you can't get out of bed for long periods I'd only have a dog if there's someone else who can do the walking and looking after in the house too, because dog's are not our tool and they only work if the love and care is reciprocal.

But if you can afford it and don't mind being tied down by the velvet ropes they come with that much responsibility then I can only recommend a dog as a great thing to have in your life. They get you out of yourself, when it's the last thing you want but the very thing you need. They love you and need you to the point where, to them at least, you are the most important thing in the world. And as long as you can feel the same about them then that is a marriage made in mental health heaven.

Helen Mayne
Monday, 3 February 2014  |  11:03

Made me cry - bless you xxx

Monday, 3 February 2014  |  11:10

Blimey! Thanks love. Steady on. Seriously though, changed my life.

Sue Lax
Monday, 3 February 2014  |  11:56

Totally understand... having been saved from the depths myself by my beautiful Millie several years ago. Now we have our little itchy dog Mabel adding to the fun and therapy too! Still a struggle some days, but they always make me smile through the worst too xx

Monday, 3 February 2014  |  11:58

Thanks Sue for your brave contribution. I think the more we talk about it the better. That way lies peace xxx

Simon Collyer
Monday, 3 February 2014  |  12:25

Cats, on the other hand, will just sneer at you and say "Either pull yourself together and feed me or put us both out of our misery."

Wednesday, 4 June 2014  |  10:10

Simon, how can you say that! ;-)

Louise Collins
Monday, 3 February 2014  |  15:23

Oh I'm so with you on this! My job is seasonal and I dread the winter as I struggle with money! But on a cold bright day there is nothing nicer than taking Tanner for walkies! xxx Keep up the good work KAte!

Monday, 3 February 2014  |  20:37

Thanks Louise. You put it so well. A walk with the dog is free and so much better than an expensive night out that leaves you with a hangover and an empty wallet. Hang on in there, it's almost Spring!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014  |  8:51

Lovely article, thank you. I have never read such an accurate description which matches exactly how I sometimes feel.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014  |  10:12

Elizabeth, thanks for adding your comment.

We need more people to put their head over the wall to discuss depression. Horrible, cruel disease that it is.

Becky Kenward
Thursday, 19 June 2014  |  11:35

I was widowed 4 years ago and if it wasn't for my dog I don't think I would be as human as I am today. Nothing like being greeted by a happy Scotty when you get home. Hence why I have ordered goodies from your site :0 )

Keep smiling!

Friday, 20 June 2014  |  10:31

Thanks, Becky, for your very moving and frank comment. I'm glad there is someone to greet you when you get home. Not much can beat a dog xx

Thursday, 10 July 2014  |  9:14

Just read the dogs and depression article which brought a lump to my throat as I could have written it myself, my dog is my angel in a fur coat who keeps me from sliding into the abyss, depression is a terrible thing and only those who suffer it know how dark things can get, dogs give unconditional love however your feeling, they should be given on prescription !

Thursday, 10 July 2014  |  9:28

Thanks Bev for taking the time to add your thoughts. They really should be on prescription, I never thought of that before now. Dogs on the NHS. The National Hound Service!

Louise Collins
Thursday, 10 July 2014  |  10:00

Lovely blog Kate! and Soooo true! xxx

Sunday, 1 November 2015  |  21:40

Wow thank you so much for sharing and being honest. I think the more people open up the better as everyone experiences depression or mental illness at some point in their lives. Love and light Kate x

Sunday, 1 November 2015  |  21:47

You too Barbara. I'm sharing and talking about it as much as I think people can stand! Just reading Ruby Wax's Sane New World. Well worth a read.

Friday, 4 December 2015  |  10:40

Thanks, Barbara

I agree, the more people discuss it the better. There is nothing worse than being judged by people who don't have a clue when you're feeling so bad.

Saturday, 7 November 2015  |  3:38

Your article describes how I feel perfectly. My black lab is adorable and makes me have routine to my day. He really has been my saviour.

Astrid Thompson
Tuesday, 10 November 2015  |  12:38

I was lost when my border terriers left this world and I worked long shifts so couldn't get another dog. In December I got a rescue dog - a lurcher - and she has made me alive again. I don't mind the velvet ropes one little bit! Excellent and perceptive article.

Friday, 4 December 2015  |  10:38

So glad you got another dog, I don't mind them either. There is nothing better than coming home to that kind of unadulterated love. Dogs just can't fake it.

Kimberley Harris
Tuesday, 1 December 2015  |  20:09

Gosh i can't believe how much of this post resonated in my bones, from how I feel on the beach with my dog is the best place in the whole world to how hard it is to have to speak to anyone at all when am in the shadows, your post was like reading my life in a mirror, I am very moved and grateful it is so hard yet so important to share. Thank you and what a wonderful site, you have also resolved my year long research for natural alternative to the dreadful Advocate I am so relieved. Very best wishes to you and your dog

Saturday, 20 February 2016  |  1:27

You've shone a light very clearly on the enormous value dogs give to those of us who have a life of emotional loneliness. My wonderful dogs have literally saved my life over these past 25 years. Every day they give me a lot of hard work, responsibility and the tremendous joy which makes every day worthwhile.