Kids today are faced with more stressors than ever, and childhood depression is on the rise because of it. Recent studies have shown almost 10% of children and adolescents experience depression. A predominant cause of depression among children is being the victim of bullying. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t discriminate and can happen to boys and girls of any ethnic, racial, religious, or socio-economic background. Bullying can cause lasting effects such as having low self-esteem and negative self-image, unhappiness at school and difficulty focusing, and trouble establishing healthy relationships with peers.
Interestingly enough, these side effects are found in the bullies as well as their victims. Both are more likely to experience depressive symptoms than those who have never been involved in bullying. They are also more likely to have other comorbid mental health issues, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Clinical Depression and Anxiety. If left unaddressed, these feeling of depression and low self-worth can lead to chronic levels of mental health issues, isolation, and even suicidal ideation.
It is imperative that parents arm themselves with strategies to help their children cope with feelings of depression and address them sooner rather than later. First and foremost, they need to recognize the signs of depression. Then they need to put their heads together and come up with a plan to help their child overcome it. It is highly suggested they collaborate with their pediatrician, teachers, and school counselors to develop a long term plan. In the meantime, one of the most effective and immediate ways to help them at home is by getting a pet.
Pets have several benefits that help combat depression and help your child feel healthier, happier, and more connected. First of all, they offer uncomplicated, unconditional love. They don’t say hurtful things, get angry over petty misunderstandings, or hold grudges. Pets simply love and express joy every time they see their owners. They also offer constant companionship. Having a pet means never having to feel alone or isolated. Additionally, the act of petting a dog or cat (or any other pet, for that matter) offers physical touch and provides comfort, creating a soothing effect and releasing feel-good endorphins in the brain. In turn, this reduces stress and anxiety and helps your child feel calmer and more emotionally balanced.
Further, your child will have an added responsibility with a pet. Contrary to what you may originally think, a new responsibility provides a distraction and offers a positive focus instead of what’s making her feel down. Plus, she’ll feel good about herself for taking care of something that needs her. She will feel capable, and this bolsters self-esteem and causes a ripple effect in all aspects of her life.
If you opt for a dog, part of the responsibilities will be walking it. This is another win-win for fighting depression. It will make your child be physically active, a well-known tool for negating depressive symptoms. It also is an excellent way to increase social interaction. People are always wanting to touch a puppy, and this leads to a natural conversation when they ask permission. Even if your child is anxious about talking to new people, dogs and pets are automatic ice breakers. Talking about a pet can easily guide the conversation with very little pressure on your child to generate small talk. If they are engaging in conversation, they are less likely to feel isolated and will benefit mentally from the interaction.
Of course, pet ownership isn’t something you should jump into lightly. Be sure to teach your child the right way to handle and care for her pet. Include animal safety rules and how to properly approach animals, and make sure she can communicate this to others who want to touch her pet. With care and supervision, your child and her pet will become fast friends in no time. While there is no quick fix for depression, owning a pet has multiple benefits which show their impact quickly. Having an unconditional friend to love can work wonders for building confidence and self-esteem and combating the negative effects of bullying and depression.
Contributed by Cassie Brewer
About the Author
Cassie Brewer is a health professional in Southern California. In her free time, she enjoys writing about her passion (healthy livingof course!) and everything beauty related. Nothing makes her happier than helping other be the best version of themselves they can be. You can read more at cassiebrewer.weebly.com and follow her on twitter @Cassiembrewer.
Photos: Purchased via Shutterstock/Cassie Brewer.