Their presence helps all ages: they become a stimulant for adults to go out and a tireless playmate for children. Many studies have shown that being with a pet helps with emotional and physical distress. A new study conducted by the University of the Basque Country has developed a program involving dogs to prevent suicidal behavior in 14- to 17-year-olds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds after road accidents, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.
The sample was tested on 30 adolescents (11 boys and 19 girls) in northern Spain. At the end of the therapeutic path, the boys not only showed a lower tendency to take their own lives and self-harm, but also a greater tendency to seek help when needed. It is very difficult to scratch the mental and emotional closure that begins in adolescence, a powerful form of discomfort that has increased dramatically during lockdown. And where parents, relatives, friends fail, a dog can succeed. Do our four-legged friends have great potential? According to the doctor Francesca Mugnai“Contact with animals makes us emotionally aroused,” said the head of the IAA at Meyer University Hospital in Florence, an expert on animal support interventions.
“Young people, especially after this long epidemic, have more difficulty in social relationships. On a personal level, the animal creates a different, instantaneous and uninterrupted communication, which works on the emotional processes produced and developed in the relationship. And neuro-endocrinological. Change “, explained Dr. Mugnai, who is also the scientific director of the Anthropozoa Research Center.
Over the years, there have been many studies that have shown how bonding with animals stimulates oxytocin, also known as the hormone of love or attachment, because it works on behaviors that mediate social relationships, stimulate bonding, and counteract cortisol. Stress hormones. “His (the dog’s) direct and sympathetic stimulus that encourages a relational level of mutual harmony through non-verbal cues, such as wagging the tail, seeking caress, trying to communicate. This is especially true when the animal is being trained. “For instance, spontaneity is necessary. It does nothing but highlight our emotions: it wakes us up emotionally when we can’t imagine a project and we get frustrated.”
Bonds of choice and trust
Studies have shown that young people who commit suicide are often unable to express their emotional distress and are reluctant to seek help. The inclusion of animals in the treatment has led to greater adherence to the type of care, creating a climate of trust and bonding. The dogs participating in the project were selected by a team of veterinarians and prepared for their work. At the same time all necessary measures have been taken for their safety.
Their main role was to encourage and reassure socialization: when it is difficult for a participant to express the emotions involved in a suicide crisis situation, the animal acts as a multidisciplinary mediator, simultaneously transmitting a feeling of calm. Physical contact is felt, thus aiding in emotional control. Dogs were also as basic as misleading during the most severe crises, and this allowed young people to learn about suicide warning signs and implement self-defense strategies.
Another recent study, conducted in Canada, showed how helpful dogs can be to people in emergency rooms. Their presence helps reduce anxiety and depression. According to Dr. Mughnai, much progress can be made: “They are concerned about the most critical issues and the reduction of mental and emotional pain in chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes and other important pathologies”. Relationship with an animal stimulates empathy: “It takes control of one’s aggression and controls one’s humming and repetitive thinking, activating not only an emotional dimension, but also a cognitive and psychomotor. Also in rehabilitation: The animal acts as an important motivator for psychophysical recovery “.
From animals to humans
Patients develop relationships with dogs, but how does this belief go from a four-legged friend to a human reference? “Thanks to the safe and co-regulated attachment to the person who is able to form the animal through the relationship,” explains Francesca Mugnai. “Fundamental in this sense is the team that works with the dog and the operator with whom it creates a path of life, work, care and trust, a secure foundation that serves as a relational model for those who benefit from the intervention: all support interventions are actually humanization of care A project should be structured and divided between the various disciplines they belong to “. So a group of people who follow not only the pathological aspect of the disease but also the personal one of the patient, form a simple relationship of trust with the animal which leads to complex and lasting reactions.
The end of the path
One would think that at the end of a course of treatment, separation from a four-legged friend can be very painful and create an imbalance in a mentally fragile personality. “Animals also help with emotional breakdowns, such as when they are in a hospital. The animal is greeted and thanked for having a therapeutic function and with whom to stay. An important relationship has been established. , Which has also become a model of psychosocial education. Her memory is an example and a stimulus “.
The climate of security and confidence that the dog has been able to create not only removes suicidal thoughts but also helps to enter the social context in a more peaceful way. And then, who knows, after this experience maybe someone decides to go to a canal and adopt a new friend, who will certainly not be “perfect” like someone known in the ward, but can become a great partner in life and new life. Adventure