What's All Fuss Over All The Pups?

What's All Fuss Over All The Pups?

Comfort dogs are on the rise these days, and I want to know why!
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"Hi, my name is Becca, nice to meet you! That is such a cute dog!"

"Thanks, I got her at the humane society this weekend!"

"Oh wow, does she live in the dorm with you?"

"Well, that's what I'm trying to work on, she needs to be approved as a comfort dog first."

"What is a comfort dog?"

...And from there opens a whole can of worms.

The story above is an experience that I have had with other classmates on numerous occasions already, and I have only been at college for eight weeks. I'm not sure if Furman is an incredibly dog friendly campus, or if all these dogs live in the dorms, but I'm ready to get to the bottom of this question "why do so many students have dogs on campus?"!

Before I continue on the subject of comfort animals, I will make it known that some of the pets on campus are outside the realm of "therapy pets". I have seen a few legitimate service dogs, whether for students that are visually impaired or suffer from epilepsy or other similar disabilities. Also, I have checked the campus rules and learned that in the on campus apartments, as long all four roommates consent, pets are allowed to live in the apartments.

The subject that I am trying to address is that the seven or eight puppies I have seen around freshman housing, are referred to as "comfort pets" when asked. So to begin, I did my research. For reference throughout this article, an "emotional support pet " is "a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability, and the reason cannot just be a need for companionship."

Anxiety, as well as depression, is a growing diagnosis among college students over the past few years. Following these diagnoses, the calming effect of pets has been widely accepted, so much that college campuses bring in domestic pets for stressed students to play with. Along with the growing acceptance of pets as sources of comfort, the request for these domestic pets to reside on college campuses has grown as well. However, in some cases, the permission for a comfort pet has been denied, leading to lawsuits filed against the schools. But how can administration discern between the legitimate request of a college kid with an emotional disability, and the homesick kid who just really wants a kitten?

This may not be happening on your campus, but I do know it to be true on Furman's campus, as it has become a widely debated topic among our students, saying "Are people trying to pass off their pets as therapy pets?" "How does a comfort pet actually improve the situation" "How can I get my dog approved??". In that sense, I thought that I would turn this article into a debate among other students. What are the benefits of comfort pet? Does the pet not introduce more stress by say, having another mouth to feed and another life to look after? Can anyone have their pet approved as a comfort pet, or do you have to have documentation of a disability? Leave your thoughts in the comments or share and fuel the debate about comfort pets!

Cover Image Credit: flickr

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4 reasons how Drake's New Album May Help Us Fight Mental Illness

Increasing Evidence Points to Music as a Potential Solution to the Mental Health Problem.

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Okay, You caught me!

I am NOT just talking about everybody's favorite actor-turned-rapper— or second, if you've seen Childish Gambino's "This is America" music video. Unfortunately, current research hasn't explored specific genres and artists. However, studies HAVE provided significant evidence in possibilities for music to treat mental health disorders. Now, before you say something that your parents would not be proud of, ask yourself if you can really blame me for wanting to get your attention. This is an urgent matter concerning each one of us. If we all face the truth, we could very well reach one step closer to solving one of society's biggest problems: Mental Health.

The Problem:

As our nation continues to bleed from tragedies like the horrific shooting that shattered the lives of 70 families whose loved ones just wanted to watch the "Dark Knight Rises" during its first hours of release, as well as the traumatic loss of seventeen misfortunate innocents to the complications of mental health disorders in the dear city of Parkland— a city mere hours from our very own community— it's impossible to deny the existence of mental illness. As many of us can already vouch, mental illness is much more common than what most would think: over 19 million adults in America suffer from a mental health disorder. Picture that: a population slightly less than that of Florida is plagued by hopelessness, isolation, and utter despair.

Disease in the form of depression holds millions of people prisoner, as anxieties instill crippling desperation and too many struggles with finding peace. This can be you. It could be your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your cousin, your aunt, your uncle, your friend, your roommate, your fraternity brother, your sorority sister, your lab partner, or just your classmate that sits in the corner of the lecture hall with a head buried into a notebook that camouflages all emotion.

I hope we— the UCF community— understand the gravity of the problem, but it's clear that some still see mental illness as a disease that affects only a handful of "misfits" who "terrorize" our streets, while the numbers reveal more to the issue. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental health disorder. The problem is so serious that suicide has risen to become the second-leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds. While many continue to ask for more antidepressants and even the occasional "proper spanking," recent studies indicate increases in occurrence, such as one in depression from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. So, clearly, none of that is working.

The Evidence:

If we really want to create a world where our children are free from the chains of mental illness, we need to think outside the box. Doctors and scientists won't really talk about this since it's still a growing field of research, but music has strong potential. We don't have any options at the moment, which means we need to change our mindset about music and to continue to explore its medicinal benefits. If you're still skeptical because of the title, then please consider these 4 pieces of solid evidence backed by scientific research:

1. Music has been proven to improve disorders like Parkinson's Disease.

Researchers sponsored by the National Institute of Health— the country's largest research agency— saw an improvement in the daily function of patients with Parkinson's Disease. This makes patients shake uncontrollably, which often prevents them from complete functionality. The disease is caused by a shortage of dopamine— a chemical your neurons, or brain cells, release; since music treats this shortage, there's an obvious ability to increase dopamine levels. As numerous studies connect dopamine shortages to mental illnesses like depression, addiction, and ADHD, someone could possibly use music's proven ability to increase dopamine levels to treat said problems.

2. Listening to the music has the potential to activate your brain's "reward center."

In 2013, Valorie Salimpoor and fellow researchers conducted a study that connected subjects' pleasure towards music to a specific part of the brain. This key structure, the nucleus accumbens, is the body's "reward center," which means all of you have experienced its magical powers. In fact, any time the brain detects a rewarding sensation— drinking ice-cold water after a five-mile run in sunny, humid Florida, eating that Taco Bell chalupa after a long happy hour at Knight's Library, and even consuming recreational drugs— this structure releases more of that fantastic dopamine. So, with further research into specifics, doctors may soon be prescribing your daily dose of tunes for your own health.

3. Listening to Music may be more effective than prescription anti-anxiety medication.

In 2013, Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin— two accomplished doctors in psychology— reviewed a study wherein patients waiting to undergo surgery were given either anti-anxiety medications or music to listen to. The study took into account cortisol levels, which are used daily by healthcare professionals to gauge patient levels. This "stress hormone" was actually found to be lower in patients who listened to classical music rather those who took the recommended dose of prescription drugs. Sit there and think about that for a second: these patients actually felt more relaxed with something as simple as MUSIC than with chemicals that are made specifically to force patients into relaxation before surgery. Why pop a Xanax when you can just listen to Beethoven?

4. Music may release the chemicals that help you naturally relax and feel love.

Further studies continue to justify music's place in the medical world as results demonstrate increases in substances such as prolactin— a hormone that produces a relaxing sensation— as well as oxytocin— the substance that promotes warmth and happiness during a hug between mother and child. So this study basically showed us that music has the potential to actually make you feel the way you did when Mom or Dad would embrace you with the warmest hug you've ever felt.

The Future:

The evidence I present you with today is ultimately just a collection of individual situations where specific people found specific results. There are a lot of variables when it comes to any research study; therefore, data is never truly certain. We should take these findings as strong suggestions to a possible solution, but we must remember the possibility of failure in our search.

The neurochemistry behind the music and its medicinal properties is just beginning to unfold before the scientific community. In fact, extremely qualified scientists from the National Institute of Health— the organization that basically runs any important medical study in the United States— continue to remind us of the subject's youth with the constant use of "potential" behind any and all of their findings. Therefore, it's our responsibility as a community to look into this— not just that of the scientists at the National Institute of Health.

We're all surrounded by music. It's at the bars. It's in our ears during all-night sessions at the UCF library. It's keeping us awake through East Colonial traffic at 7:00 AM while hordes of students focus on their cell phone screens instead of the paved roads ahead. It's in the shoes we wear, the actions we take, and the words we say. IF YOU'RE READING THIS: it's accessible to you. So, don't be shy, and try to play with your Spotify account, or even just on YouTube, and gauge the power of music. As more and more of us see the light, we can promote the movement and carry on as more research comes out to support us.

Drop the bars, drop those addictive pills that destroy your body slowly, and pick up your headphones and press PLAY.

Just relax, close your eyes, smile, and live.

Cover Image Credit:

@champagnepapi

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We Need To Talk About Mental Illness, So Today, I'm Speaking Up

Take it from someone who knows.

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To start, mental illness is a real thing. It gets so easily overlooked and unless a person has it themselves or is close to someone who does, they probably don't care. And there's a ridiculous stigma that it can't be spoken of because they assume no one needs or wants to hear it.

The problem with not talking about it is that the people struggling with mental illness are made to suppress their feelings and bottle everything up inside. In turn, no one else is forced to try to understand how much it varies and all the different ways to handle it.

The thing is that no two cases of mental illnesses are the same and should be treated as so. Everyone has different needs. Some need people around to feel better while others like to be alone, there are different coping mechanisms, and the list goes on. It's important to not be ashamed of where you've been in your mental health in order to get past it.

Every person dealing with a mental illness is different, but we're all in it together.

One commonality is that we all have our own version of rock bottom. I have mine, so I'll begin with that.

It's a story few people know. Only the people there to witness it know it ever happened at all. It's something I think about all the time but never mention. I said I was ready to talk about mental illness and I am. I'm not ashamed to speak of it because I know talking about it and remembering it is what keeps it my lowest point and prevents me from going backward. It's my chance to move forward.

I was 15 and high school was the roughest it had ever been. Death in the family, various pressures and the constant feeling of being more alone than ever were all too much to handle. Nothing made sense because I was happy and I took everything with a grain of salt before. Thankfully, it was all the worst it would ever get, and I learned that I could handle it, I just didn't know it would get better. I didn't think it would because I was depressed. A few weeks before I hit my lowest point, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and it all lined up.

I was sent to a therapist to talk about my problems, but for the first time ever, I couldn't speak. The happy, talkative, outgoing, personally-aware girl I was didn't want to sit down and explain what was wrong. I didn't think at that moment that anything was wrong, but I should have. I was just tired and stressed all the time. I thought it was normal to not be okay. Then I had a constant reminder that it wasn't normal, and I needed to be fixed.

That voice in my head got to be too loud and my lowest point was fast approaching. I grabbed a bottle of pills and didn't think twice about what would happen next. There wasn't a phone number I would have been willing to call to change my mind; I decided at that moment to just be done. It took for my mom to rip the bottle out of my hands for me to pause and I calmed down. Whether it was one thing or everything at once that triggered it is something I don't know. It all happened so fast and it's a blur. Nothing about the decision I was making made sense at that moment. It still doesn't almost four years later.

The biggest blessing is that I'm still here, if for no other reason than to share my story and to empathize with others on a different level than many can. I also get to constantly learn from it; about myself and the value of life. Having a mental illness, and specifically dealing with one, requires one to know a lot more about the self than anything else. What I knew immediately was that I refused to accept that my mental illness would define who I was, who I would become and what I would do.

I knew I didn't want to be medicated because I considered that "artificial happiness." It works for a lot of people and that's great, but it scared me. I knew there were things that still could make me happy. It didn't matter how hard I would have to work to get it, I just would.

The next step was just to figure out what it would take to pick myself up and to keep my rock bottom at the bottom. I had to learn how to cope safely through music, meditation, exercise and a balance of all my guilty pleasures. I had to figure out how to put in the extra effort to be as happy as I could. I had to learn that emotions are beautiful but they fluctuate and that's okay as long as I am able to channel them in a healthy way. I have to be able to see the signs that I'm getting down. I know I like to be around people so the moments I prefer being alone, I know something's off and I talk to someone. I'm still figuring it all out one step at a time because that's all I can do.

I also learn about others because of what I went through. I know to check on my loved ones, regardless of how fine they seem because I remember being the one who hid her feelings. I know not to judge how someone copes because we're all just trying to deal. I try to be good company because I know how valuable it was to have it. I know what it takes to keep up good mental health, so I don't knock anyone for being worn out.

It's quite a process of growing and evolving over time. It's a matter of not judging what we don't understand and helping and showing support when we do. It's not a phase and it's not a trend. Mental illnesses are real things and rock bottom is a real place. I could give a tour of it with my eyes closed. I will argue its existence for my entire life because no one should feel bad or inauthentic about their reality.

It's easy to pass judgments on what we don't understand. However, when there are misunderstandings, there's room for questions to be asked. Compassion and support go a long way, much further than confusion and generalizations.

Regardless of doubt and assumptions, mental health is important.

It is said that there are more cases of mental illness than there ever were before, but instead of denying its presence, the concern should be about fixing it. The pressures for perfection and success have been far more apparent nowadays, so balance should be more encouraged.

No one should have to feel alone. Talking should feel a lot easier than hiding behind the pain.

Cover Image Credit:

https://unsplash.com/photos/irVfITbMJZw

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