Kentucky cat cafe helps visitors combat mental burdens through furry friends

Covington cat cafe
Posted at 11:19 AM, Dec 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-08 11:29:30-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Chuck Patton, the owner of Purrfect Day Cafe in Covington, said a recent interaction with a customer changed his perspective on the impact the furry creatures housed within his cafe could have on patrons.

"'Are you OK? Is everything fine?'" he recounted. "And she proceeded to tell me that her and her friend were supposed to come to the cat cafe, but her friend committed suicide. So I said, 'You know what? Just come on inside and just sit inside. Hang out.' And honestly, she just sat there and kind of cried on and off for about two hours. Then she came out and she said, 'I can't tell you how invaluable this was.'"

The cat cafe's primary goal has been to invite guests to hang out with furry friends who hopefully wind up with forever homes. Now, Patton said, he's noticed many visit the cafe to escape problems in their lives.

"One of our number one comments is typically that 'Oh my gosh, that was the most amazing experience and I'm so chill now.' And it's the cheapest therapy in town," said Patton.

In March, research from a locally-based study led by Interact for Health showed the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the mental health of those living in the Tri-State region.

In that study, a survey of nearly 900 people throughout the Tri-State region found that 32% say the pandemic has made their mental health worse. Only 7% responded that their mental health had improved. The survey also found the impact to mental health more strongly affected young adults and women.

The survey also found that 16% of respondents also saw negative impacts on their physical health over the past year, while 8% said their physical health was better.

Children haven't been immune to the impacts either.

In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among children ages 12–17 years old, especially girls.

From February to March of 2021, suspected suicide attempt visits to the emergency room were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years than during the same period in 2019. Similar visits for boys increased by 3.7%.

Dr. Maria Espinola, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC, said finding therapeutic outlets, like cuddling a pet, is important to help with depression and anxiety.

"I always encourage my patients to find things that are therapeutic, but not traditional therapy," she said. "And I do this because therapy is one hour a week. OK, what do you do the rest of the time? You have to make sure that you structure your life in a way that improves your overall well-being."

Espinola said many adults and children experience mental health issues stemming from childhood trauma.

"Childhood trauma is very preventable," she said. "And if we were to put more effort into preventing childhood trauma, we will see those numbers go down."

If you or someone you love is living with severe mental illness, please see these local options for help:

NAMI Lexington: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or (859) 272-7891
New Vista Community Mental Health Center: 24-hour Mental Health Helpline: 1-800-928-8000 (telehealth available)
University of Kentucky Students, The UK Counseling Center: (859) 257-8701
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741 to connect to a trained crisis counselor