By Collette Case, 10 October 2020
Today is world mental health day. It’s an important day for me for a number of reasons that have shaped my life. I’d like to share some examples.
I grew up in a house with a father with mental health issues. That had a huge impact on my life and I ended up leaving home while still a teenager. I was homeless for some time.
My homelessness, was the basis for the work I did in university. I did a study on the general health and mental health benefits of dog ownership to homeless people. In 1990, this was not an issue many people thought about much. The study of the human/animal relationship was in its infancy and homeless people were generally treated as little more than vermin.
My study showed that there were health and mental health benefits to homeless people who had dogs, and the most significant of those were among men. I have lots of theories as to why that is the case, but no evidence, so I’ll let you ponder on that.
I went on to found the Hope Project. In that role we were very involved with a case of a woman with mental health problems, who was going to be evicted unless she surrendered her dog. She believed, as did her medical team, that the dog was critical to health. She won her case. It was important.
My professional life was all about the mental health and welfare of dogs and cats in the care of humans and sometimes those two issues collided. One case in particular involved a cat breeder, from whose home we extracted over 150 pure bred cats. She had become obsessed with creating a ‘perfect’ coat colour and this had superseded the welfare of herself and her husband.
I was fortunate to be one of the early pioneers in changing the way that animals were housed in shelters, experimenting with different types of enrichment. At the time, there was almost no science so everything was by trial and error. The aim of this was to maintain and even improve the mental health of the animals that came into the care of rehoming organisations.
I suppose, what I’m trying to get at, is that mental health is health. It effects all of our lives and, as our lives are intrinsically connected with those of our pets, there is an important connection. Now, there is plenty of science working to learn more about this relationship.
These are my thoughts on World Mental Health Day. To all of my friends who are working on or struggling with their own mental health, I offer my support and love. To all of my friends who are working to improve the mental health of humans and/or animals and raise awareness, thank you.