Companion Pets Help to Ease Symptoms of Grief

Florida State University researchers have found the companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults. The study, funded by The Gerontological Society of America and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and published in The Gerontologist, examined depressive symptoms and loneliness among people age 50 and older who experienced the loss of a spouse through death or divorce.

"Increasingly, there's evidence that our social support networks are really beneficial for maintaining our mental health following stressful events, despite the devastation we experience in later life when we experience major social losses," said Dawn Carr, lead author and FSU associate professor of sociology. "I was interested in understanding alternatives to human networks for buffering the psychological consequences of spousal loss."

Carr and her team compared individuals who experienced the loss of a spouse to those who stayed continuously married. Then they explored whether the effects of spousal loss differed for those who had a pet at the time of the death or divorce.

They found all individuals who lost their spouse experienced higher levels of depression. However, people without a pet experienced more significant increases in depressive symptoms and higher loneliness than those who had pets. In fact, those who had a pet and experienced the death or divorce of their spouse were no lonelier than older adults who didn't experience one of those events.

"That's an important and impressive finding," Carr said. "Experiencing some depression after a loss is normal, but we usually are able to adjust over time to these losses. Persistent loneliness, on the other hand, is associated with greater incidents of mortality and faster onset of disability, which means it's especially bad for your health. Our findings suggest that pets could help individuals avoid the negative consequences of loneliness after a loss."

Carr's team used data from a sample of older adults who participated in an experimental survey about human animal interaction as part of the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study in 2012, and linked the data with additional data collected between 2008 and 2014. They identified pet owners as those participants who either had a cat or a dog.

"In everyday life, having a cat or dog may not make you healthier," Carr said. "But when facing a stressful event, we might lean on a pet for support. You can talk to your dog. They're not going to tell you you're a bad person, they're just going to love you. Or you can pet your cat, and it's calming."

The researchers noted that additional studies should be conducted to explain why having pets helps maintain mental health better. However, Carr suggested part of it may relate to whether you feel like you matter to someone.

"Oftentimes, the relationship we have with our spouse is our most intimate, where our sense of self is really embedded in that relationship," Carr said. "So, losing that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that comes from that relationship can be really devastating. A pet might help offset some of those feelings. It makes sense to think, 'Well at least this pet still needs me. I can take care of it. I can love it and it appreciates me.' That ability to give back and give love is really pretty powerful."

The findings have potential consequences for social policies. For instance, it may be beneficial to include companion animals in the treatment of people residing in senior-living facilities, or reducing barriers to pet ownership in such settings.

Read this article on Science Daily:  Materials provided by Florida State University. Florida State University. "Furry friends ease depression, loneliness after spousal loss." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 September 2019.

Dr. Holland offers Canine Assisted Therapy

Connecting with a dog can be powerfully healing and comforting for individuals of all ages and walks of life. In some cases, it can help an otherwise “stuck” patient overcome hurdles in treatment and begin making progress again. The friendly, accepting nature of these beautiful animals makes them ideal “co-therapists”. Canine-assisted therapy has been around for several decades, and will continue to be used for years to come due to its many benefits. The use of dogs as part of therapy and other forms of treatment can be beneficial for a wide range of disorders, issues, and conditions. Learn more ....

Grief & Bereavement

Clients who are facing significant life changes and ongoing adjustment due to  death of a loved one benefit from Dr. Holland Grief Therapy Services. Life Transitions Therapy is also beneficial for friends and family members of one who may be confronted with serious or terminal illness or injury, or friends and family of someone who has passed away after a long illness, or sudden death. Learn more ...

Contact Dr. Holland to learn more and to schedule an appointment or call 707-479-2946.

Death of a close friend creates significant emotional suffering

The death of a close friend hits harder than previously believed

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The trauma caused by the death of a close friend endures four times longer than previously believed, according to new research from The Australian National University (ANU). The researchers warn a lack of recognition about the time it takes people to mourn a close friend is leading to inadequate support being made available during the grieving process. The study shows the death of a close friend will significantly affect a person's physical, psychological and social well-being up to at least four years. Previous studies suggested the grieving period lasted for around 12 months.

The study analyzed longitudinal data and indicators of health from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey of 26,515 Australians, of whom 9,586 had experienced the death of at least one close friend. Lead author Dr Wai-Man (Raymond) Liu said the study found people grieving a close friend suffered a significant decline in physical health, mental health, emotional stability and social life. "These findings raise serious concerns with the way we manage the recovery for people dealing with the loss of a close friend," said Dr Lui. "We found there are serious declines in the health and well-being of people who had experienced the death of a close friend any time in the last four years.

"We all know that when someone loses a partner, parent or child, that person is likely to suffer through a significant grieving period. Yet death of a close friend, which most of us will experience, is not afforded the same level of seriousness by employers, doctors, and the community. The death of a friend is a form of disenfranchised grief -- one not taken so seriously or afforded such significance. This is leaving people without the support and services they need during a very traumatic period of their lives." Dr Liu has called on medical practitioners and policy makers to rethink the way they approach dealing with people's grief after the loss of a friend. "We need to recognize the death of a close friend takes a serious toll, and to offer health and psychological services to assist these people over an adequate period of time."

Story Source: Read this article on ScienceDaily --> Materials provided by Australian National University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length. Australian National University. "The death of a close friend hits harder than we think." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2019.

Dr. Holland's Perspective

Dr. Jenny Holland, Psy. D."From birth to death we are wired for connection. It is not something that we just want, it is something that we deeply need to ensure our survival. Connections with caring and supportive others helps us develop into the people we are meant to be. These connections keep us thriving and growing as we move through life, and as we experience challenges and successes together.

Friendship is a special kind of relationship because it is one where we are not obligated through family ties or by contracts, but rather we choose to be close, because something in that person brings out the best parts of us. And we bring out the best in them. A close friend loves us enough to tell us the truth about what they see in us, both constructively and with encouragement.

Because our friends have the ability to tell the truth in a way that no one else can, they are in a unique position to help us to see ourselves more clearly. We feel truly seen and recognized, we trust them deeply, rely on them to be there for us and we are committed to being there for them. Our friends know us better than anyone else, and we often tell them things we don’t even tell our spouses or our therapists. Therefore, when we lose a friend, the consequences can be severe emotionally, physically and mentally.

When we are faced with the loss of a close friend, one way to ease our suffering is to try to take care of ourselves the way our friend would if they were here. That includes, paying attention to the way that we talk to ourselves and standing up to thoughts feelings and ideas that tear us down, the way a friend would. Feeding ourselves good food the way a friend would. Showing up for ourselves the way a friend would, consistently, patiently, and with love. This is an effective way to honor their memory and the closeness that you shared." Learn more about Dr. Holland's work with grief and bereavement...

Dr. Jenny Holland provides cutting edge, integrative and evidence-based care, proven effective with depression and anxiety, life transitions; pregnancy, parenting, ageing, loss and caring for a parent or loved one during a health crisis or decline. To schedule an appointment call 707-479-2946.