Get a pet.
That’s what the latest common wisdom would suggest. But taking the furry creature cure is not just iffy for the depression sufferer; it could also be harmful to the pet.
I began contemplating this topic because of an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times by Hal Herzog titled “Fido’s No Doctor, Neither Is Whiskers. After citing his “stacks of articles” on studies that detail the health benefits of pets — for example, “that stroking an animal lowers blood pressure, that AIDS patients living with pets are less depressed and that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, sleep more soundly, exercise more and take fewer sick days than non-pet owners” — Herzog writes:
Unfortunately, however, I also have another stack of articles, almost as high, showing that pets have either no long-term effects or have even adverse effects on physical and mental health.
Citing flawed data in several studies about the benefits of pets and presenting counter studies, Herzog concludes:
No doubt, the talk in some medical circles of prescribing puppies and kittens for the chronically ill is well intentioned. But until the research is complete, pet lovers should probably keep taking their Lipitor and Prozac.
His rather noncontroversial point? We simply don’t know enough to judge right now.
But that didn’t stop commenters from creating an uproar on the Times site. Many questioned the methodology of Herzog’s anti-pet-benefit studies (fair enough) and others provided anecdotal evidence about how pets helped them and/or their relatives and friends through various mental and physical illnesses.
I’m not a big fan of the pharmaceutical industry and feel pretty confident that diet and exercise will keep me from ever needing to take Lipitor. But I have some anecdotal evidence of my own to share: When it comes to depression, some of us need drugs, not dogs.
Unfair to the depression sufferer
I’ve been prone to depression for as long as I can remember, but didn’t seek medical help for many many years (although, like every good middle-class New Yorker, I spent the requisite number of years in psychotherapy). I had lots of excuses: I wasn’t depressed enough — however depressed that might be — to require medication. I should be be able to tough it out. I only need to exercise a little more…
People who have physical problems rarely think of avoiding medical solutions when other alternatives aren’t working for them; it’s usually the other way around, i.e., they turn to alternative medicines when the medical establishment has failed them. But even today, when mental health problems have (theoretically) been destigmatized, many people with mental health issues still feel embarrassed about seeking medication instead of making do with yoga.
It’s lucky I didn’t know about the dog-as-antidepressant theory when I adopted Frankie. As a drug substitute, he was a nonstarter. Read More