CANBERRA, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Researchers from the University of South Australia have found that elderly people who have pets are less likely to take their own lives.
In a study published on Monday, researchers surveyed Australians aged between 60 and 83 on the impact of pets on their wellbeing.
More than one third of respondents reported being "actively suicidal" or "significantly traumatized" but said that their pets, including dogs, cats and birds, gave them a reason to live.
Elderly males were most likely to identify pets as being crucial to their mental health.
The suicide rate among people over 60 in Australia is the highest of any age group.
Janette Young, the lead author of the study, said that pets helped mitigate the loneliness of participants as well as giving them responsibility.
"Pets offer a counter to many older people's sense of uselessness," she said in a media release.
"Animals need looking after which creates a sense of purpose for older people, and they also promote social connections with other people."
Researchers said that their findings should spark a re-examination of the lack of pet accommodation in aged care facilities.
"Health and care providers need to understand the distress that many older people face when they have to relinquish their pets if they move into aged accommodation, lose their spouse or downside their home," they wrote.
"For some people, the loss of a pet may mean the loss of a significant mental health support, one that was perhaps even protecting them from ending their life."