How a dog is helping university students with their mental health

Sean Morrison
Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell who is joining the fight to help students at Newcastle University with their mental health: PA

A dog has been taken on as a new recruit at a university to help students with their mental health.

Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell, is taken on walks around the local parks, providing academics with a break from the pressure and stress of campus at Newcastle University.

Other universities offer therapy dogs for stressed students, and some have dog-walking schemes, but Newcastle University believes theirs is the only one that lets people take a dog out for an unsupervised stroll.

Bessie belongs to Sally Ingram, the university's director of Student Health and Wellbeing, who said: "Research has shown that time spent with animals can alleviate worry, provide comfort and help people deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness - all issues that students can sometimes struggle with.

"Combining this with fresh air and physical exercise is a good recipe for positive physical and mental wellbeing."

Students Paige Coope and James Woods walking Bessie (PA)

She said the dog-walking sessions have the lowest drop-out rate of any of the wellbeing services the department provides, as people do not want to let Bessie down by not turning up to walk her.

Sessions last an hour and students are encouraged to pair up to walk her, so they get to chat while they take Bessie out, and explore Newcastle's parks.

Friends Paige Coope, a philosophy student, and James Woods, who is taking a combined business, media and communication degree, have taken Bessie out.

Ms Coope said: "I would recommend this service to anyone who may be stressed with exams or for those who simply want the company of a great dog and have a spare hour."

Mr Woods said Bessie is very calm and cheerful and he looks forward to walking her.

He said: "She is sure to bring you some much-deserved downtime when you need it - especially if you miss your pets from home."

The university was advertising its scheme to coincide with World Mental Health Day.