The emotional bond that pets can provide can make a real difference in the lives of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. Picture: Supplied

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10, and with South Africa having the sixth highest rate of suicide in Africa, it is important that we recognise mental health and how we can support family and friends.  

Marycke Ackhurst, Hill’s pet behaviour expert, says that the emotional bond that pets can provide can make a real difference in the lives of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety.   

The World Health Organisation has reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15 to 29-year olds globally and that 79 percent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. 

“These are frightening statistics and as a result we are pleased to be able to work with individuals who provide emotional support through specially trained emotional support dogs,” says Ackhurst.

Veterinary social worker Dr Magdie van Heerden says that there is no recipe or intervention with therapeutic animals that will work for everyone or always.

“Sometimes the individual may have a reaction, such as a smile and at other times there could be a change in behaviour or attitude.” She cautions though that these animals are not therapeutic tools to be used just when needed. They too experience stress and their quality of life needs to be considered. 

“Each case of depression needs to be treated differently and an emotional support dog can play a significant role in the treatment process, from providing cuddles on demand, stability and regular emotional comfort,” says Ackhurst. 

Pet parents will testify to the fact that when going through a difficult time their dog is the one to pick-up on their emotions and provide unconditional love and comfort, when humans sometimes just can’t. 

Research has shown that pets can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and has even revealed that people with pets are happier, with improvements in self-esteem and improving social skills. 

Individuals who may require emotional support are encouraged to contact SADAG or the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.