The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" February 2006
Research Theme:" Effects of Companion Animals on Depression or Job Stress among Industrial Workers "
Kyoko Suzuki
PhD student, Department of Health Education, Graduate School of Health Sciences, Tokyo Medical and Dental University
Japan's economic malaise in recent years has had considerable physical and psychological effects on corporate employees. For instance, suicide is the most or second most common cause of death in all age groups of Japanese from the 20's through 50's. The number of patients suffering from mental diseases like depression and neurosis is growing steadily year after year. Among the people in their 20's or 30's, the ratio of patients treated for mental illness is far higher than that of patients treated for physical diseases. Mental care of workers is now an important issue for the effort to prevent suicides.

When Suzuki, who is conducting research on various topics related to occupational health, discovered that there are many corporate employees who try to ease their stress by talking to their dogs as soon as they get home, she thought raising a companion animal might help workers cope with their stress.

In fact, it has been reported that having a companion animal helps elder people maintain their health and maintain or raise the level of their social activities, and that people owning a companion animal show greater ability to adapt to stress. It has also been reported that among men nursing family members suffering from Alzheimer's and women younger than 40, those who keep a companion animal show less tendency toward depression than those who don't.

So Suzuki assumed that keeping a companion animal would also be beneficial for workers, improving their job-related stress and depression. On this assumption, she conducted a survey of some 1,300 employees of a precision instrument maker on the correlation between keeping a companion animal (dog or cat) and occupational stress and depression.

The survey results were analyzed from six perspectives: (1) basic attributes (age, sex, occupation), (2) lifestyle habits, (3) ideas on health, (4) screening test for depression, (5) occupation stress measures and (6) companion animal ownership. One statistically significant fact found by the survey is that the number of people who regularly exercise is greater among those who keep a companion animal than among those who don't. That indicates keeping a companion animal, whether a dog or a cat, tends to encourage exercise including walking. Since regular exercise helps prevent lifestyle diseases and has refreshing effects, Suzuki reasons, the finding suggests keeping a companion animal may help prevent depression indirectly.

No significant difference, however, was found between people who own a companion animal and those who don't with regard to tendency toward depression. "While social support by their superiors and colleagues has been shown to help workers cope with stress, the effectiveness for stress coping has been proved for nothing else," Suzuki says. "I wanted to demonstrate that keeping a companion animal is the second effective approach to coping with stress, but unfortunately the survey didn't show that." "Previous studies have indicated manufacturing workers are more likely to show a tendency toward depression. In my survey, manufacturing workers accounted for 40% of all the respondents, a higher ratio than that of any other category of workers. So we cannot rule out the possibility that there were many people among the respondents whose tendency toward depression had been somehow weakened."

In order to study the effects of raising a companion animal on job stress again, Suzuki is considering a research project in which workers with a strong tendency toward depression are encouraged to have a companion animal to measure changes in their mental conditions caused by the animal.