Dolphins Treat Depression

December 8, 2005

Throughout history, animals have been used by man for transportation, to carry supplies, and to help with farming. Here is another job to add to the list: psychologist! New research shows that playing with dolphins can significantly reduce moderate depression in people.

Christian Antonioli and Michael Reveley of the University of Leicester Medical School took 30 patients with mild to moderate depression to the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences in Honduras. The 30 patients were randomly assigned to two groups:

Animal Care (Dolphin) Group: patients played, swam and cared for dolphins for one hour a day, five days a week, for two weeks. Patients were able to touch the dolphins and snorkel in the water with the animals.

Outdoor Nature (No Dolphin) Group: patients played, swam and snorkeled in the water without dolphins for one hour a day, five days a week, for two weeks.

Patients who participated in the Dolphin Group showed significantly greater reductions in depression compared to patients in the No Dolphin Group. Also, 77% of the patients who played with the dolphins fell below a cut-off level for depression; only 25% of the patients in the No Dolphin Group reached this level. Although the anxiety in patients in both groups also decreased, there was no difference in the amount of anxiety reduction between the groups.

It is not known how the dolphin-human interaction works to relieve depression. Although relaxing in a natural setting such as the beaches of Honduras may help some people, playing with dolphins appears to give an additional boost to relieving the symptoms of depression. The researchers suggest that positive emotions brought about by interacting with the dolphins may be responsible for the benefits of dolphin therapy.

Reference: Antonioli, C. and Reveley, M.A., Randomized controlled trial of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins in the treatment of depression, British Medical Journal, 331:1231-1234, 2005.

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