We can be forgiven for thinking that mental health issues are only obvious in the human race. Having lost my brother and nephew to suicide, I have an understanding of what it is like to live with two young men with severe mental health issues. When was the tipping point so great that they both took their own lives? I will never truly know, but what I do know is that life was too painful; in the end death was the only option. To lose two young men had a huge impact on my family, there have been many years filled with grief and sadness but it has allowed me to have empathy, understanding and it has given me the desire to study this complex subject. There is a lot of truth in the saying that “you have to walk the walk, to talk the talk”. Mental health issues in young people is at an all-time high, appointments with psychiatrists are taking up to 9 months which is leaving vulnerable people without the necessary help that they need. The issue is very close to my heart; if we cannot understand the mental health issues of our children, how are we going to understand those in our animals?
Stress in Animals
Now there is so much more evidence that some of the animals in our lives are in a constant state of stress. They frequently suffer with allergies, skin conditions, anxiety and fear. I have treated many animals with symptoms of stress and when I take a look at the problem at a deeper level, there is always a point in their lives where something has happened and often a point when something is missing which does not give them the necessary tools to deal with day-to-day life. What happens if this stress is never addressed and the animal is constantly being pushed into a state of anxiety? In exactly the same way as humans, they start to exhibit behaviours which serve no other purpose other than to relieve their stress.
Picture the patient rocking backwards and forwards in a mental institute, the rocking is rhythmic and often caresses their mind to help reduce their spiraling state of anxiety. Animals too are showing more and more similar behaviours, which in the animal world is termed “stereotypical behaviour”. The horse weaving in the stable, the cat licking its leg until it bleeds, the horse licking the stable walls and the stallion biting his flank even when it is a gaping open wound. These are examples of animals I have worked with; some of them I could help, with amazing results, but it was the ones that I could not help, that made me ask why? What pushes an animal to the place of no return? It is often caused by a lack of understanding of what the animal needs and then the behaviour becomes so ingrained that it becomes impossible to fix. Even when you take all of the stress away, the animal is unable to change.
The Fight or Flight Response
A professor of neurosurgery in California, Phil Weinstein, has said that animals feel anxiety similar to humans because the structure of their brain involved in the responses is not that different from ours. Therefore this being the case there comes the possibility of a mental breakdown. Fear is often triggered using the “flight and fight” response. It is the body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from actual or perceived attack, harm or threat to protect their survival. When activated, everything becomes a possible threat or danger. This response is triggered across all species and was an important tool to protect them from the possible threats of the saber toothed tiger. Alas there are no such tigers today and yet the “flight and fight” response is continually being triggered by perceived fears that our animals are unable to process.
They are often in a situation where they are unable to flee, as these perceived fears can often take place in the home, such as the postman posting the letters through the letterbox while the owner is at work. They cannot fight either, yet their fears are real. Each time the response is triggered it releases toxic hormones into their body, which would have been dissipated naturally if the animal was allowed to flee and fight. There are no saber toothed tigers, yet the animal’s body is continually in a state of anxiety. The hormones are continually being triggered causing an array of health problems such as immune disorders, skin problems and more importantly emotional or psychological symptoms manifesting as anxiety, depression, sadness or fear. Many anxieties will directly manifest in the physical body, taking the form of excessive licking, weaving and feather plucking.
If the animal’s mother was very fearful and not socialised properly, she would not have been able to teach her baby with confidence and it is often the case that this fear is passed on to her young. When you combine the “flight and fight response” with faulty genetics you have a higher possibility that the animal will find it difficult and sometimes impossible to cope under stressful situations.
How To Help A Stressed Animal
Early socialisation is the most important gift you can offer your animals to help them understand that the world is not full of tigers. Try to see things from your animal’s point of view by recognising stressful situations. How is it making them feel? Flower essences can make a huge difference in helping your animal emotionally to cope with anxiety and fear. I have worked with animals who have been transformed from a quivering wreck into having a more carefree attitude to life. You have to make sure that you remove the triggers that are causing the stress, so that the flower essences can work fully. If you cannot remove the stress triggers then you will need to work with your animal, so that you can socialise them to the situation or object. The flower essences support the animals while they learn to deal with their fears, they will relieve the anxieties, so life is not a scary place.
So what about the animals that I couldn’t save? As it is the law in the UK to work with a vet, if you are to treat an animal that is not your own, I was able to share my understandings and assessment of the situation. The vet is responsible for the health and welfare of the animal and also is able to offer a greater insight into the situation. Recognising that a client may be beyond your capabilities is at the heart of what makes a good Animal Holistic Practitioner. The ones I could not help received intensive veterinary and behavioural treatment to help them to let go of their anxieties.
Flower Essences for Fear
Aspen (Bach) – Fear of the unknown
Betony (Bailey’s Flower Essence) – For unrecognisable fears that can make the animal feel unloved
Black Locust (Bailey’s Flower Essence) – Protection from negative influences and from the fear of being attacked.
Cherry Plum (Bach) – Fear of losing control
Mimulus (Bach) – Fear of the known
Red Chestnut (Bach) – Fear in regard to a family member
Rosebay Willowherb (Bailey’s) – For times of major upheaval when your animal is disorientated and lost.
Sweet Chestnut (Bach) – For extreme mental and emotional distress
Walnut (Bach) – The perfect essence for any type of change in your animal’s life
White Chestnut (Bach) – Restlessness and obsessive behaviour
Add 2 drops of your chosen essences into a treatment bottle. Add spring water, shake vigorously and then give 4 drops 4 times a day. Let the magic of the flowers start to work, you will be amazed.