Animals, along with the internet, are one of the best additions to a mental health ward.
The Buddy effect: improving mental health treatment, one pet at a time
Everyone should have a Buddy. When Buddy enters a room, everything automatically lights up. Buddy exudes charisma. Buddy is the life and soul. Buddy makes everything better. No matter the situation, nothing fazes Buddy. I wish I was more like her.
Buddy is a Tibetan terrier, and one so unstoppably adorable that I genuinely don’t know how anyone manages to meet her without abducting her. And I’m not even her biggest fan. I’d probably struggle to crack her top 100.
Buddy’s owner, Marion Janner, knows exactly the effect that the dog has on people, which is why she’s been promoted to the role of unofficial Star Wards mascot. In a field often portrayed as bleak and helpless – the field of mental health – Buddy represents positivity.
Star Wards – one of this year’s nine Guardian/Observer Christmas appeal charities – was set up eight years ago, after Janner was sectioned with borderline personality disorder. “Being sectioned was soul-destroying – soul-annihilating, actually,” she says. Part of Janner’s frustration stemmed from her issues with the hospital staff, who – despite their good intentions – appeared underused and crippled by overzealous governance. This observation compelled her to write a list of all the little things that could have been improved in her ward. Nothing huge – making sure that all the board games had the correct pieces, encouraging patients to support each other – but enough to run to 65 points.
As a campaigner, a former community service manager and a full-time mile-a-minute dynamo, Janner felt obliged to do something with this list. So she emailed Louis Appleby, the then national director for mental health. Fast-forward a few years and her list of practical, low-cost changes – christened Star Wards – is being implemented in about 80% of the country’s mental health wards.