Pet a cat to lower stress: 89% of S’poreans in survey say pets positively impact mental health

If you need a heartwarming boost.

| Sulaiman Daud | Sponsored | November 24, 2023, 11:37 AM

It’s been a few years, but memories of the Covid-19 pandemic are still fresh in the minds of many.

During those dark days of the circuit breaker, what helped many Singaporeans get through these tough times were their pets.

Whether furry and fluffy, smooth and scaly, or just cute to look at, having a pet lifted the spirits when we most needed a boost.

A survey conducted in Singapore a year after the pandemic found that 89 per cent of respondents agreed that their pets had a positive impact on their mental health.

So it was perhaps no wonder that SHINE Children and Youth Services turned to furry friends in its effort to support the mental wellness of young people in Singapore.

Called ‘Just Fur Fun’ (JFF), it is an animal-assisted care programme supported by the National Youth Fund (NYF) and the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation that aims to provide mental health support for youths aged 15 to 25.

The National Youth Fund by the National Youth Council supports youth sector organisations to champion ground-up youth initiatives and innovations that create social change.

Mental health boost

I asked Shi Ying, a 22-year-old volunteer and NUS student, how the cats factor into her work.

“I believe that animals and humans can form special bonds that humans cannot always offer each other. Hopefully, this can help the youths to relax in this space and enjoy a sense of companionship with the cats while also talking about their mental health.”

Shi Ying is a former intern at SHINE, and saw for herself the time, care and effort the organisation puts into creating fruitful and fulfilling opportunities for both volunteers and beneficiaries.

Volunteers engage youth participants during the sessions, exploring mental health topics like understanding emotions and self-care, and help them to practise coping strategies.

“I think SHINE truly nurtures a culture of growth, of looking out for each other, and of care,” she said, and added that volunteering at SHINE gives her opportunities to learn and a chance to give back.

But why mental health in particular?

“The topic of mental health has always been near and dear to my heart,” Shi Ying said.

“Everyone, I believe, has struggled with their mental health at some point in their life, but not everyone has the opportunities to talk about it, to process these struggles, and to heal,” she added.

Through her work, Shi Ying hopes to be an advocate for people to discuss mental health, in a way that helps them to grow, and the community too.


Shi Ying also pointed to what she called a “wealth of research literature” compiled by SHINE to show the benefits of animal-assisted activities.

I turned to Natasha Lim, a social worker at SHINE, for more information.

“Animals are perceived as non-judgmental and non-threatening, offering full unconditional and positive regard for humans,” she said.

SHINE, an organisation almost 50 years old, started its youth mental health service (ResiL!ence) in 2020.

It observed that due to issues like social stigma on mental health and a relative lack of options, youths may not know how to care for their mental health, or delay seeking help.

SHINE therefore stepped in, aiming to make mental health services more accessible and approachable for youths.

“Just Fur Fun” is just the latest in their endeavours.

It began when staff members at SHINE noticed that they all were pet owners, of cats in particular.

This led to a literature review that revealed the benefits of animal-assisted approaches.

Lim cited studies that said the presence of animals could also support therapeutic engagements.

This helps the social worker to appear more trustworthy, and facilitates the youth's participation by making them feel more comfortable.

Image via SHINE.

Some benefits of taking part in such programmes include decreased perceived stress and anxiety, while also boosting self-esteem.

This can be seen even in brief interactions with the furry creatures.

And when people are less stressed, they are more likely to be open to communication and build a rapport with their social worker or volunteer.

A “mini-pilot” programme was conducted in Dec. 2022, and proved to be popular among youths.

Hence, SHINE continued to do more research to design a more structured programme.

They currently have six groups running concurrently.

In one of those groups, partnered with a secondary school, the teacher shared that as a form teacher, she had known one particular group of students for about three years and shares good rapport with them. However, the JFF sessions allowed her to find out even more about the students and deepened her understanding of some of their mental health concerns.

Through JFF sessions, she had more time and space to hear about the students' struggles and challenges. Hence, she was appreciative of the safe space that JFF created for everyone.

Over the four sessions, the group developed a sense of comfort and trust with each other and the facilitators, as they shared their vulnerabilities. They encouraged each other as they learned new ways to better manage their challenges.

Thanks to JFF, and the help of the dedicated facilitators and furry friends, a safe and relaxed environment was created for participants to speak more freely about their mental health concerns, find support and be more open to seek help from professionals.

Take care of the cats

Of course, involving animals means they must be properly cared for.

Lim shared that SHINE sought advice on ethical practices from the cat café they work with, Wildflower Studio.

They also did their research by consulting reputable journal publications on animal-assisted activities and its relationship with mental health.

“From our research and advice, we’ve gathered from those more learned than ourselves,” Lim said. SHINE has curated session plans and training programmes for both staff and volunteers.

And so far, it seems to be working.

“Based on our experiences so far, the youths enjoy being given time to interact with the cats. It is rather evident that the youths experience some sort of joy and calmness when socialising with the cats. They also share that they experience great fun being with the cats.

Not only does it benefit the youths, the cats from the café also get time to socialise with humans and grow comfortable to touch. Which enhances their adoption process as they learn that humans can be friends. It’s kind of like a win-win situation for both.”

Image via SHINE.

Importance of mental health support

While Covid-19 was a terrible and tragic experience for all, one silver lining was that society became more open to discussing their mental health.

“I believe the awareness of understanding that mental health is health has improved significantly,” Lim said. However, since it is a big topic, it is unfortunately also easy to find misinformation on mental health.

Hence, it is important to turn to credible and trusted sources who have experience in dealing with such matters.

Lim encourages the public to continue being open to learning more about their mental health. And who knows, you may want to volunteer yourself.

“It is wonderful to see more and more people from all walks of life sign up to volunteer with us in our team in recent years, who hope to contribute to spreading awareness on mental health and grow to be equipped in skills to support people with mental health needs.”

Similarly, Shi Ying sees volunteering as a way to connect with the community, and “pay it forward.”

“As someone who has received support from the community, I hope to be able to give my time and energy into helping where I can. In this case, JFF also allows me to journey, even if for a short period, with the participants and cats, and hopefully, make these short sessions something that all of us can take away.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about ResiL!ence@SHINE, you can visit their website at, or follow their Instagram account, @ministryofmental.

You can also reach out for mental health support here.

Caregivers can get in touch via WhatsApp at 8877 8728, and youths seeking help can send a WhatsApp message to 9740 1489.

If you are part of a youth sector organisation looking to champion your own ground-up youth initiative, find out more about the National Youth Fund today.

This is a sponsored article brought to you by the National Youth Council.

Top photo from SHINE Children and Youth Services.