A new study from a developmental psychologist at Tufts University has found that young people who take care of a pet tend to have stronger social relationships and bonds to their communities.
“Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual’s life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship,” said study author, Megan Mueller, who’s study was published in the journal Applied Developmental Science. “The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships.”
Mueller surveyed over 500 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 26, who were mostly female, about their attitudes and relationship with animals. Those responses were compared to answers the same participants had given on an array of questions that assess positive youth development attributes such as competence, caring, self-esteem, connection, and character, in addition to feelings of depression, as part of a nationwide longitudinal study: the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development.
Young adults who looked after animals reported participating in more “contribution” activities, such as offering service to their community, assisting friends or family and displaying leadership, compared to those who did not. The more regularly participants took part in the pet’s care, the greater their contribution scores. The study also discovered that high levels of connection to an animal in late adolescence and young adulthood were positively linked with feeling in touch with other people, having empathy and feeling self-assured.
“We can’t draw causal links with this study but it is a promising starting point to better understanding the role of animals in our lives, especially when we are young,” Mueller said.
Mueller added that future analyses on how animals are linked with positive youth development need to look at specific features of human experiences with animals, in addition to how these relationships develop over time.
Many teens who do suffer from depression are not being prescribed antidepressants, according to a study published earlier this month.
The study, which was published in a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, found that pediatric primary care practitioners are reluctant to prescribe antidepressant medications to adolescent patients — even those with severe depression.
Doctors who are more knowledgeable about depression — and especially those who have access to an on-site mental health care provider — are more likely to prescribe antidepressants for depressed teens.
“With the national shortage of child psychiatrists, education interventions which take into account a primary care provider’s feelings of burden when addressing mental health problems and collaborative care with mental health professionals will be needed to increase appropriate prescribing of antidepressant medications to depressed adolescents,” said study author Ana Radovic of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
The study authors said steps that may encourage “guideline-concordant” antidepressant prescribing by pediatric primary care practitioners include continued support and training in depression management, co-management with mental health care providers and interventions to make PCPs more comfortable in dealing with patients’ psychosocial problems.
This article first appeared on ‘Red Orbit’ on 1 February 2014.