A man from England who’s struggled with his mental health for years has found a way to cope with his emotions through his dog — and he’s using that experience to transform the lives of other men in his community.
Rob Osman launched “Dudes & Dogs Walk & Talk” — a group aimed at helping men talk about their mental health — in October 2019 after he realized that walking his pooch, Mali, gave him a sense of relief and clarity, according to Today.
“Dogs are like four-legged antidepressants,” Osman, 38, told the outlet. “When people are around the dog, they drop their defenses. They play with the dog.”
“I’m not saying anything new when I say going into the fresh air makes you feel better,” he added. “Just the realization of just how beneficial that time with the dog has been.”
From the time he was 10 years old, Osman, from Bristol, England, has lived with debilitating social anxiety, according to his Facebook page.
“When I was younger it manifested in basically throwing my guts up in pretty much any social situation, especially where girls were involved,” he admitted on the page’s “About” section.
Things only got worse for the Brit in his 20s when his dad died, leading to depression.
“Not that unusual, but still something that can have a massive effect on my mood,” he wrote on the Facebook page. “Whoever we are, whatever we do, we still have our self doubts that can break us.”
“I’ve had demons throughout my life,” he added to Today.
Though he gave medication a shot, it turned out nothing seemed to help him with his mental health quite as much as Mali did, according to the outlet. Still, he didn’t think anything of his pet’s power until 2019 rolled around.
At the beginning of last year, Osman officially said goodbye to his corporate job and focused on studying psychology at a local university, while also walking dogs and spending time with his family, Today reported.
During that time, Osman would often be joined by friends as he walked Mali, a Hungarian Vizsla, or other dogs, according to the outlet.
Together, they would get outside, walk around and have conversations — activities that were also evidently impacting his friends’ mental health for the better.
Realizing this, Osman decided that he wanted to help others who were experiencing similar issues, so he created a community interest group for people in his hometown.
“What has helped me hugely, is the fresh air and getting out with my dog, the good it does me is for another time,” he wrote on the page. “But when I was reaching out to other members who were in the group, part of my message always said, ‘Come on a dog walk’ and it reaffirmed what I already knew. This was a way I could help people. By giving them what I had. That time out, that time away, no signal, no noise but nature, just time.”
The current premise behind “Dudes & Dogs” is to pair men with a trained volunteer and dog, prompting them to get outside and talk about their feelings — something that Osman said he felt men were often hesitant to do.
“We want men to understand that it’s not just okay to talk, it’s important,” Osman wrote on his group’s website. “Talking helps. It really does. It’s helped me no end, but sometimes as men, we aren’t the best at it.”
“They need someone to listen,” Osman explained Today of his mental health initiative. “The idea of using a dog gives people an hour away from the family and gets them out.”
“It gives people the opportunity to realize that it’s not unusual to feel that way,” he added. “This is giving them a free space and a relaxed place to talk.”
As it turns out, Osman’s theories have been backed by research for years.
In terms of being outdoors, studies have found a major correlation between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression — something researchers have referred to as ecotherapy, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Experts have also determined that pets are beneficial to mental health and can help with PTSD, autism, dementia, and even recovery from a heart attack or stroke, according to the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Ohio State University, Rustin Moore.
“People’s heart rate, their blood pressure, go[es] down, as does stress hormones, such as cortisol, and actually there’s a feel-good hormone called oxytocin that actually goes up,” Moore told Today. “It doesn’t even to be your own pet.”
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“Walking a dog is a conversation waiting to happen,” the Dean added to the outlet. “People come across the street to pet the dog and then you start having a conversation.”
For Osman, he told Today he’s forever grateful to Mali for not only helping him with his own mental health struggles, but for providing a new purpose in life to help others.
“She has helped me mentally and physically, her love is unwavering,” said the dog owner, who hopes to spread his group worldwide. “And no matter how you feel when you come home, she instantly makes me happy.”