A nurse battling anxiety and depression for many years has told how her symptoms have eased dramatically – thanks to her pet SKUNK.
Paula Bavill, 46, was previously unable to attend large gatherings and events with confined crowds because of crippling mental health issues she had suffered from for a decade.
She purchased Pongo two years ago but didn’t know at the time her four-legged furry friend would end up changing her life forever.
Paula can now often be seen walking around in public with Pongo in a pouch on her chest or plodding along attached to a lead at her feet.
She says having him by her side focuses her mind and concentration, and that being able to pet him soothes her anxiety.
Paula, from Wakefield, West Yorks, has joined thousands of other mental health sufferers whose own ‘panic pets’ help overcome their symptoms.
A study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found adopting a pet can treat depressive symptoms when both antidepressants and psychotherapy fail to do so.
Companionship is also cited as a key reducer of the stress hormone cortisol and as providing an overall boost to well-being.
While most ‘panic pets’ tend to be cats or dogs Paula, who owned ferrets for many years before, wanted something a little bit different.
She said: “Pongo has definitely changed my life for the better.
“Before I would be too anxious to go out into places with too many people and too many loud noises, it was overwhelming.
“But when he’s there I’m able to cope much better. Nothing phases him at all, he’s very sociable and really chilled.
“I think a big part of it is that when Pongo is there all the attention is on him and not me.
“Also, being able to just stroke him takes my mind away from everything else that’s going on.”
Paula owns another skunk, five-year-old Wilfred.
She said it’s relatively simple to take care of pet skunks, adding that they eat vegetables twice a day, have litter trays and enjoy free roam of the house.
Paula explained Wilfred’s character is vastly different to Pongo’s, in that he doesn’t like busy areas or loud noises.
Pongo’s calm temperament means Paula can take him to fan conventions such as Comic-Con, which she had always been too anxious to attend before.
She said: “It’s great to be able to go to events and actually have a good day.
“Obviously that’s normal for most people but for people with mental health problems it’s really difficult.”
In a study, Dr Helen Brooks from Manchester University found pets acted as a “form of encouragement” for those with mental health conditions.
She added that animals can distract sufferers from “symptoms and upsetting experiences”.
A Mental Health Foundation charity spokesman said: “Pets are a great motivator for people.
“They are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression.
“Pets can also have calming effects on their owner.
“Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can gives owning a chance to relax and calm their minds.
“Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement.
“It also helps you feel valuable and needed.”