Pets offer valuable support for owners with mental health problems

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JANUARY 18, 2017, 9:51 AM 11 COMMENTS 2609 VIEW

Pets offer valuable support for owners with mental health problems
Pets often play a key role in helping people manage long-term mental health conditions, according to University of Manchester researchers.

December 9, 2016, MANCHESTER, United Kingdom—Pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions, according to University of Manchester research published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry.
The consistent presence and close physical proximity of their pets was described in this NIHR-funded study as providing an immediate source of calm and therapeutic benefit for the pets’ owners. The researchers suggest that pets should be considered a main source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems.
Lead author, Dr Helen Brooks from The University of Manchester said: “The people we spoke to through the course of this study felt their pet played a range of positive roles such as helping them to manage stigma associated with their mental health by providing acceptance without judgement.
“Pets were also considered particularly useful during times of crisis. In this way, pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which they were often not receiving from other family or social relationships. Despite the identified benefits of pet ownership, pets were neither considered nor incorporated into the individual care plans for any of the people in our study.”
Dr Brooks added: “These insights provide the mental health community with possible areas to target intervention and potential ways in which to better involve people in their own mental health service provision through open discussion of what works best for them.”
The researchers interviewed 54 participants, aged 18 and above, who were under the care of community-based mental health services and had been diagnosed with a severe mental illness.
Participants were asked to rate the importance of members of their personal network including friends, family, health professionals, pets, hobbies, places, activities and objects, by placing them in a diagram of three concentric circles. Anything placed in the central circle was considered most important; the middle circle was of secondary importance and the outer circle was for those considered of lesser importance.
Pets played an important role in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem, as 60% placed their pet in the central most important circle and 20% placed their pet in the second circle.
The participants stated that one reason for this was that their pet helped by distracting them from symptoms and upsetting experiences such as hearing voices or suicidal thoughts. Participants from the study were quoted as saying:
“I felt in a sense that my cat was my familiar in that he understood or was an extension of my thoughts.”
“When I’m feeling really low they [pets] are wonderful because they won’t leave my side for two days.”
“You just want to sink into a pit and just sort of retreat from the entire world, they force me, the cats force me to sort of still be involved with the world.”
“I’m not thinking of the voices, I’m just thinking of the birds singing.”
The interviews supported existing evidence that some participants feel distanced from healthcare and uninvolved in discussions about services. Taking more creative approaches to care planning, such as incorporating discussions about pets, may be one way of helping to better involve participants because of the value, meaning and engagement that individuals have with their companion animals.
The paper, ‘Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition’, was published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. DOI 10.1186/s12888-016-1111-3
An accompanying blog has also been published which can be read here.
Source: University of Manchester


Today is the 2nd chapter of tomorrow or the beginning of tomorrow.

Today I found myself babbling a bit and expanded on multiple subjects in random orders that alway ended with the first sentence. It’s like a circle of thoughts without an ending but hundreds of topics. Bipolar Disorder, the uncontrollable ability to speak quickly, then slowly, then not at all, and sometimes all in one day. Do you find yourself doing that or do you have a favorite and entertaining friend who fits that description? What are your thoughts? Or their thoughts? Or the thoughts of your dog as you walk thru the living room 20 times, doing absolutely nothing, just trying to go to bed, Eat Tostitos with cheese, ice cream, or pinging your husband on the head while he sleeps. Make sure he’s asleep and you have a straight path to a hiding place. Are you out there?   

Pets & Bipolar

Pets & Bipolar: Friends With BenefitsDogs — and cats, birds and other critters — boost well-being in many ways.

By Elizabeth Forbes

Whoever coined the phrase “man’s best friend” was on to something. Dogs—and cats and birds and other critters—have well-documented properties for boosting our well-being.

When psychologists from Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University in Missouri compared pet owners to people who did not own a pet in three different studies, people with pets scored higher on self-esteem, were more physically fit, and tended to be less lonely, less fearful and less preoccupied.
One of the experiments showed that thinking about a beloved pet is as effective as thinking about a human friend in helping someone feel better after experiencing rejection. In fact, research shows that the bond people have with their dog can be as strong as the bond with their closest relative.
“A third were closer to the pet dog than to any human family member,” says Sandra Baker, PhD, who co-authored that study. “Wherever I speak around the world, dog owners aren’t surprised by that.”
Barker is director of The Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, where she holds a named chair in psychiatry. She’s been involved in a body of research documenting the power of even 15 minutes with a therapy dog in cutting levels of stress, anxiety and fear for both psychiatric inpatients and hospital staff.
That reduced stress response, whether with therapy dogs in health care settings or pet owners “in the wild,” has been documented across a range of physiological measures, including brain waves, blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.”
That unconditional sense of love gives people a sense of hope that they can persevere.
Aubrey Fine, PhD, editor of the Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy and author of several books on the benefits of human-animal ties, notes that dogs are very attuned to nonverbal behavior and therefore responsive to emotional distress.

In his most recent book, Our Faithful Companions, he writes about how the comforting attachment of a golden retriever named Magic helped his wife through breast cancer. Like many people who study or have companion animals, Fine talks about the emotional boost from a dog’s faithful devotion—the excitement on seeing you, the total acceptance without judgment.
“That unconditional sense of love gives people a sense of hope that they can persevere,” says Fine, a professor at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. “I remember my wife said, probably a couple months post-treatment, ‘Magic is the hope that I need to get on to the next day.’“
Cats and dogs don’t have exclusive bragging rights, though. Fine first got intrigued by “pet power” in the 1970s when he saw how children he was treating responded to a gerbil named Sasha. Clients in his private practice engage with his cockatoos and other birds, and even his bearded dragon (a type of lizard).support-someone-with-bipolar
“Fish are very relaxing,” he adds, referring to research that shows watching fish tanks decreases stress hormones.
A goldfish in the cardiac unit was the catalyst for People-Animal Connection, a volunteer program based at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. “People noticed that it had an effect not just on the patients, but on the staff as well,” explains program coordinator Stephen Goldstein.
Now People-Animal Connection has therapy dog-and-owner pairs visiting almost every unit of the hospital, including the psychiatric institution. The organization also arranges for people to spend time with their own pets, which combats loneliness and raises spirits.
“Words can’t quite describe the effect,” muses Goldstein. “The dogs provide something that medicine cannot.”
For his part, Goldstein has a cat waiting in his condo when he gets home after work. He finds solace in stroking Athena’s fur.
“There’s scientific evidence that petting, whether a cat or a dog, reduces blood pressure,” he explains.
However, getting a pet isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Some of us just aren’t “animal people.” Others may have issues with health, time, money, or housing that make having a pet problematic.
“We can’t make a blanket recommendation that everyone should get a dog. It really depends on the family’s circumstances and their ability to care for the animal,” notes Megan Mueller, PhD, a research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
She also points out that the emotional benefits of animal companionship depend on the quality of the connection between human and animal. In one recent study of children in military families, she found a deep attachment to the family pet is associated with greater resilience when a parent was deployed—“an acute stressor,” she says. The simple presence of an animal in the home wasn’t as important as “what kind of relationship someone has with a pet,” Mueller says.
The deeper the bond, however, the more painful it can be when it’s broken. When we invited readers to share the ways companion animals add to their well-being, several alluded to the destabilizing effects of losing a beloved companion. As with so many triggers, having a coping plan in place can moderate the fallout.
“Most people are surprised and shocked by how intensely they feel grief after the loss of a pet,” says Barker, who is known for her work in supporting bereaved owners. “Pets don’t live as long as humans do. It’s important to remember that and prepare as the pet ages.”
She suggests thinking in advance about ways to commemorate the pet, such as planting a tree or writing a poem.
Of course, we also received many heartfelt and heart-warming accounts of how animals contribute to our lives. We present some of those stories here.
Tagged with: anxiety, Bipolar, cats, dogs, elizabeth forbes, highlight, Pets, recovery, Spring 2015, therapy, wellness

Elizabeth Forbes Elizabeth Forbes, a veteran reporter and editor, has been overseeing content for esperanza and bp Magazine since 2009.

Understanding the Spectrum of Bipolar Disorder

By Cheryl Cranick | Feb. 01, 2017
We do a great disservice to people diagnosed with bipolar disorder by ignoring the condition’s types. Too often I see “bipolar disorder” used alone, yet the illness actually exists on a spectrum.
For most of my teenage years, I struggled with sadness, lack of energy, rapid mood cycles and suicidal thoughts without knowing the cause of the symptoms. By age 16, I had been diagnosed with OCD and depression, but treatment wasn’t helping.
At age 20, my mother found a home screening test to determine if my depression might actually be bipolar disorder. When the results placed me on the spectrum, I was deeply confused. Based on my understanding of the disorder, its symptoms did not match what I experienced. My dominant symptom was depression, and I never reached mania.
After receiving a formal diagnosis from a mental health professional, I began to better understand how I could have bipolar disorder without the “typical” symptoms I had heard so often. My condition is bipolar II disorder—I just didn’t know there was more than one type.
This was back in the early 2000s, when talking about mental health was still rather hushed. While, we know more now, and we talk more about mental illness, it still seems the bipolar disorder types are often left out.
Why the Details Matter
Beyond the occasional reference to Types I and II, bipolar disorder is usually grouped as one condition. Ignoring the spectrum prevents the public from better understanding the complexity of this illness, and what’s worse is the prevalence of misdiagnosis. Studies have found 40% of patients with bipolar disorder were initially diagnosed with unipolar (major depression). This does not surprise me. With bipolar II disorder specifically, depression is usually the most common or stronger symptom of the high/low mood scale, whereas manic symptoms may go unreported to a doctor because the elevated (or increased) mood is not severe enough to affect the person’s life.
Understanding the Spectrum
For those who don’t know the difference—or want to easily explain the difference to others—I often hold up my two hands. One hand is unipolar (depression). The other hand is bipolar I (manic depression). What exists in the middle is the bipolar II spectrum. Unfortunately, the spectrum is wide and unique to each person.
You can also think of the bipolar spectrum as a hill, with unipolar (depression) at the bottom and bipolar (manic depression) at the top. The space between the upward curve is the spectrum and each person with bipolar II disorder exists somewhere along it. The closer a person’s symptoms are to one end, the more likely that person is to receive a diagnosis of major depression or manic depression.
With bipolar I, the mania is usually quite clear. In bipolar II, the mania is “milder.” Depression is usually present in both, and may be more severe and prevalent in bipolar II. However, these conditions rarely feature across-the-board symptoms for everyone. It’s the cluster of symptoms that need to match up for a diagnosis.
I am somewhere in the middle. My lows are low and have reached suicide ideation. My mania, however, is classified as “hypo,” and expresses itself in behaviors such as talking faster than normal, staying up late with lots of energy or being quick to anger.
Educating Others
The spectrum is not new to people who live with the disorder, but it is news to many. As a NAMI In Our Own Voice presenter, two responses I received during presentations last year have stuck with me.
After sharing my story at a CIT training, one officer asked me: “How am I able to help people in my community if I don’t even know this exists?”
Months later, while speaking at a NAMI Family-to-Family class, a woman told me about her husband, noting his depression treatment was not working. Visibly relieved, she said: “I’ve never heard of this. I think you just diagnosed my husband, daughter and sister-in law.”
While only a health care professional can diagnose, we must be active self-advocates and educators. We must be clear when referencing this illness in hopes that fewer people will endure the pain and frustration that comes with misdiagnosis.
For more information on the bipolar spectrum, check out the book: “Why Am I Still Depressed? Recognizing and Managing the Ups and Downs of Bipolar II and Soft Bipolar Disorder” by Jim Phelps.
Cheryl Cranick fictionalized her bipolar II misdiagnosis and severe weight gain into a novel titled “Becoming” ( The book hopes to educate about bipolar II and encourage empathy, as her character struggles through college. Cheryl lives with her two rescue dogs in Jupiter, FL.

People with Bipolar Disorder Feel Pain Differently By LaRae LaBouff ~ 2 min read

People with Bipolar Disorder Feel Pain DifferentlyPain in bipolar disorder is not limited to the psychological pain of depression or agitation. Physical pain is also a symptom of bipolar disorder, usually in the form of muscle aches and joint pain. There are also chronic pain illnesses linked to bipolar disorder like migraines, fibromyalgia and arthritis. Research has shown that the way the brain perceives physical pain overlaps with the network that processes psychological pain. A new study takes this a step further, showing evidence that people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia perceive pain differently than the general population.
Scientists are still attempting to learn more about how humans perceive and process pain. It is an evolutionarily old process, making it difficult to study. From what evidence has been found, it’s thought the brain perceives pain in five steps:
Contact with stimulus (pressure, cuts, burns, etc.)
Perception (nerve endings sense the stimulus)

Transmission (nerve endings send signals to the central nervous system)

Pain center reception (the signal reaches the brain)

Reaction (the brain sends back a signal for action)

Most pain sensation is dealt with in the spinal cord, but is also processed in the brain. Pain is perceived in the brain by the thalamus, anterior insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex. Each of these areas can also be affected in bipolar disorder. The ACC has been linked to affect regulation and processing negative emotions, each of which have been shown to be dysfunctional in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Dysfunction in this area has also been linked to psychosis.
The prefrontal cortex has been linked to both pain processing and bipolar disorder. In people who experience chronic pain, the prefrontal cortex appears shrunken in some patients. In bipolar disorder, the prefrontal cortex can also appear shrunken, especially when left untreated. In these cases, symptoms like problems with memory, emotional control, critical thinking and social functioning can be exacerbated.
A new study led by Amedeo Minichino and published in the journal Bipolar Disorders, has found more evidence that people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may experience pain differently than the general population.
They studied 17 patients with bipolar I, 21 patients with bipolar II, 20 patients with schizophrenia and 19 healthy controls. The participants were stimulated with lasers to simulate a pinprick sensation. Pain perception was then measured according participant report of 0 equaling no pain and 10 equaling the worst possible pain. Pain processing was measured through electrodes on the scalp to determine the areas of the brain stimulated during the pinprick sensation.
Those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia showed dysfunctions in areas of the brain typically associated with processing painful stimuli as well as the part of the brain linked to psychosis.
Participants with schizophrenia showed a higher pain tolerance and reduced sensitivity. Those with bipolar disorder also showed abnormalities in pain processing, especially a lower response in the AIC and ACC. Bipolar II participants showed closer results to the healthy controls.
The authors suggest this might be related to the psychosis spectrum. A bipolar II diagnosis indicates no experiences of psychosis, whereas almost 60% of people with bipolar I experience psychosis at some point.
While this is an important step in understanding the way people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder experience pain, there is much more research needed to fully understand the link. 
You can follow me on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff or find me on Facebook. Image credit: Xu-Gong

10 Habits of highly successful people with bipolar disorder

10 Habits of Highly Successful People With Bipolar Disorder
People who are successfully treating and living with bipolar disorder realize there’s no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to behavioral, emotional and psychological protocols and have done their best to design their own. Here are ten habits of what has worked for them:

#1 They’ve created their own treatment plan
Through trial and error, these folks have created a personalized treatment plan that works for them. For one person, focusing on therapy for the mind may work, while someone else is better treated with certain medication. All treatment—pharmacological, therapy and lifestyle—needs to be designed specifically for you
#2 They rally a supportive team
First off, they are not afraid to ask for help and understand they need the assistance of others when they can’t help themselves. They know that support comes in many forms; perhaps they’ll join a support group, either online or in person. Successful people with bipolar also nurture their support team—staying in contact, communicating and expressing deep appreciation for their help.
#3 They practice mindfulness
Meditation practice improves your ability to manage work, organize tasks and focus in stressful situations. Over the past decade, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve a whole host of health and disease outcomes; now studies demonstrate what’s happening to the brain in order to produce these beneficial health effects. It shows that meditation reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress adults.
#4 They know their triggers and have a plan
As with mania, knowing what stressors leave you vulnerable to depression can help prevent recurrences. Work-related stress, sleep disturbances and traumatic life events can all be triggers and having a plan to help prevent minor symptoms from turning into a full-blown episode is vital. Successful individuals have put together a comprehensive plan, usually with the help of their spouse and/or family. They understand how to recognize the beginnings of either depression or mania and what they will do in such cases.
#5 They have a healthy diet and exercise regularly
Whether they find it challenging or not, they know that having a healthy lifestyle—eating well and moving more—is a crucial complement to a treatment plan of medication to maintain mood stability. Studies now prove that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to have certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, making a nutrient-dense diet all the more important.
#6 They have good sleep habits
But for people living with bipolar, sleep is found to be a significant cause of stress. We know that sleep problems don’t just affect mood, they can also be the cause. Here are nine ideas for better night’s sleep. Keeping steady rhythm throughout their day…going to bed and rising the same time each day and following the same bedtime routine.
#7 They stick to a schedule/routine
The schedule itself is personalized to each individual but the point is they stick to their set routines—especially for the important aspects like exercise, diet, sleep and meditation. By doing something regularly, like brushing one’s teeth, it soon becomes second nature and doesn’t take willpower to stick to.
#8 They pay attention to their thoughts
They are aware of the loop that links bipolar depression, anxiety and negative thinking and work hard at breaking free of this; they learn to shift out of negative modes such as catastrophic escalation and pessimism and destructive self-talk and instead choose a more positive and practical outlook to almost every situation.
#9 They are grateful

They understand that gratitude has a strong association with well-being and that practicing this state of being has a positive influence on their mood, relationships, outlook, and overall happiness—all of which can bugger against anxiety and depression. Some people have found it helpful to keep a daily journal and write what they are grateful for every day.

 #10 They keep a journal
Whether it’s charting their moods, diets, exercise or even what they’re grateful for, the simple act of writing it down somewhere (or typing for that matter) does something to further instill the subject matter to memory. Besides its validating and therapeutic benefits, writing one’s thoughts down can be meditative as it forces one to think only of certain thoughts and not about everything at once.