Petspace is a unique program which educates young people about the mental health of animals.
The program, a partnership between RSPCA NSW and Uniting’s headspace programs across Western Sydney, brings young people and animals together and shines a light on the mental health challenges that can be experienced by both.
The program is running again in 2022 thanks to funding from the NSW Government.
More than 150 young people have completed Petspace since it started in 2014.
The six week program involves interactive activities like reading to the animals and creating enrichment toys for them, while also teaching participants to understand and interpret different animal behaviours and the techniques to support the animal’s mental health.
Stephanie Sok is Education Manager for RSPCA NSW. She said mental health concerns in animals are not dissimilar to humans.
“Many animals come into care from scary or unsafe situations, meaning they need extra love, patience and behavioural support to grow into happy and healthy pets,” Ms Sok said.
“The young people provide invaluable support and positive human interaction to the animals as they recover. It shows just how important and precious the bond between people and animals is.”
Ruth Luxford is Headspace Mt Druitt Community Development Coordinator and Petspace facilitator. She said Petspace is a transformative program for young people currently engaged with headspace.
“It supports young people to work with different animals whilst they also learn about their own mental health challenges and support practices. Animals experience mental health challenges just like humans do and often treatment options and recovery processes are similar.
“It utilises a narrative therapy approach to support young people to reflect on their own mental health journeys and self-care practices. It also opens their minds to see what they can learn from supporting animals in similar situations.”
Jess, a participant from the most recent Petspace cohort said, “Attending the program showed me that animals all share a similarly strong need for companionship, boundaries and routine and these are equally as important to us as humans. The program helped me think about my own needs and mental health.”
Elizabeth who completed the Petspace program in 2019 said after she finished high school, she lost her sense of purpose. “Before I did this course, there were a lot of days where I would not get out of bed and this course gave me a reason to get up every day.”