How My Cats Help Me Overcome Mental Illness


I haven’t always been the picture of mental health. That’s a joke, because I wouldn’t even say I am now. I have very long history of mental illness. It has been present since birth, but it really got bad when I hit adolescence. During that time of my life, I was even hospitalized twice, and in outpatient “day care” even more. I was a mess. I’m not currently a mess, and I’m much more stable and a lot happier than I used to be. I owe a lot of this to adopting my two cats, Freyja and Lucipurr.

Don’t get me wrong — I also owe years of intensive therapy, medication, the hospital stays, my own willpower, an absolutely legendary psychiatrist, and supportive friends and family. After Freyja came home, though, close friends could notice an obvious change in me. I was healthier, happier, and generally more stable all around. For someone who has been diagnosed as borderline — or as they call it here, emotionally unstable personality disorder — this is pretty huge.

Having the responsibility is a huge part of it for me. I have two little amazing creatures who depend on me to have a happy and healthy life. They need me to feed them, they need me to change their litter boxes regularly, they need to me refill their cat fountain and change the filters, and they need me for play and cuddles and interaction to become properly developed and socialized cats. I think they do take it a little far when they won’t let me sleep in — ever — but I can’t really blame them, either. And I am notoriously difficult to get out of bed if I feel there is no reason to. I’ve felt that way much of my life. So having two demanding reasons to get out of bed every morning is a huge help. Mental health professionals often recommend cats (or dogs) to mental health patients who can handle the responsibility — if someone does not feel up to it, they still recommend smaller animals who require less care, and plants.

On top of the responsibility, there’s the routine. Especially when the depression is kicking my butt, or my anxiety has triggered physical attacks on my body, I’m prone to remain bedridden for days to weeks at a time. Considering the fact my girls won’t even let me sleep in on my days off, you can bet there haven’t been any bedridden weeks since I rescued them! It may be something only cat owners know about, but cats LOVE routine! They will let you know every day when it is feeding time, catio time, play time, cuddle time, even bed time! This is a huge help for mental health issues like depression, where routines get lost and the loss of them just compounds to make everything worse.

The company is also priceless. For me, it is really, really hard to stay sad and lonely when there are two furry balls of love purring against me and talking to me all day. It helps that my cats love my company and are the furthest thing from an aloof roommate as possible. They love attention and snuggles, and being a cat lover, how does that little face not make one just melt? Everything seems right with the world when I’m holding a warm and lovely purring kitty in my arms. Their unconditional love makes the deal even sweeter. Seeing how much my cats love me and need me reminds me how the people in my life — my husband, my family, my closest friends — love me and need me as well. It’s easy to forget that, no matter how much they tell you themselves, when you struggle with serious mental health problems like depression.

Something very interesting has happened over time as well. My girls, especially Freyja, seem to be able to sense how I’m feeling, and if I’m in a particularly bad state of mind. They won’t let me be alone when I’m a potential danger to myself. I don’t know they sense it, but they do. They follow me everywhere, and I can’t even shut the door to get away from them — unless I want them to start trying to break it down and crying non-stop at the top of their little lungs. They even seem to sense if I’m just idly picking at a scab (more than a bad habit, it’s a facet of dermatillomania) and start yelling at me and headbutting me!

I simply cannot bring myself to pick a scab or harm myself in any way, let alone think about leaving the world, with them keeping watch over me. It has helped me greatly in my journey to recovery from those specific issues. They keep me motivated to get out of bed every morning, to better myself, and keep me smiling. My depression has lifted with the help of medication, therapy, and my cats. They even help me keep some aspects of the borderline under control — I can’t spend impulsively, I have to provide for my cats. I can’t act recklessly, because they need me, and that reminds me of others who need me. I need to take care of myself and monitor myself closely so I can remain in top form and be the best I can be for my furbabies — and myself!

How about you? Have your cats helped you recover or stabilize better in regards to mental health problems? Do you recommend cats for people who are struggling? Do you cats look over you like guardian angels? Share your stories with us in the comments!

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About the author: Hana lives in Belfast after moving from the U.S. of A. with her two spoiled kittens, two chubby rats, and one cheeky husband. Hana works in admin but occasionally goes on tour working for an Austrian death metal band. When she’s not putting up road-weary punk rockers and metallers, you can find her taking the cats around town in their stroller, whipping up new recipes, or playing way too many video games. She writes at Mommyish and Catster. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

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