Crocodiles can help keep older men safe from suicide according to researchers at the University of South Australia.
According to a report in The Lead South Australia, pets of all kinds can counter give older people’s a sense of purpose with the responsibility of looking after a dog, cat or budgerigar is often enough to stop someone taking their life.
Dr Janette Young, whose research findings have been published in the journal Anthrozoos, told The Lead:
“Pets offer a counter to many older people’s sense of uselessness. Animals need looking after which creates a sense of purpose for older people and they also promote social connections with other people.”
The finding was unexpected, as Dr Young and her colleagues had not predicted that the question “How do your pets influence your health?” would prompt people to talk about suicide.
With many older people experiencing complex health problems, social isolation, loneliness and concerns about burdening their families, the researchers found that pets could play a protective role and provide significant mental health support.
One man interviewed told the researcher: “I actually realised the only thing that is really keeping me alive was these (nods to dogs) and the birds, giving me a chance to get out of bed in the morning.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, another man kept reptiles as pets, including a crocodile which brought him into social contact with specialist groups in the community and was among only a few in the community able to care for its wellbeing.
According to Dr Young, the fact that reptiles are nocturnal may have the benefit of providing companionship for people with depression who can’t sleep at night.
In terms of older men and suicide, Dr Young said of her unexpected discovery:“This is a particularly important finding, men over the age of 85 have a high rate of suicide, it’s about finding things that are important in terms of wellbeing”.
According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men over 85 have the highest rate of suicide of any age group and are around seven times more likely to kill themselves than women of the same age.
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Read Position Paper:The Need For Male Friendly Approaches To Suicide Prevention In Australia (AMHF)
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Read: New Bendigo support group for men to kick off (AMHF)
Read: New report reveals shocking male suicide statistics (AMHF)