If you were to walk through either of the Mercy Home campuses, you may notice the presence of fish tanks in various parts of our Home. This isn’t by accident! Aquariums are proven to have therapeutic benefits.
One of the most basic ways fish tanks provide a soothing environment is through the sound of running water. You can see this in the way people find comfort in the noise of a running stream or waves crashing on a beach.
This kind of benefit can be replicated through aquariums kept in a home or office. Using fish tanks to aid our emotional wellbeing is often called aquarium therapy.
One of the largest benefits fish tanks provide to our children is the reduction of anxiety. Did you know the reason you often see fish tanks in doctors’ or dentists’ offices is to reduce stress and anxiety in patients?
Our children receive the same benefits from our fish tanks. Many of the young people at Mercy Home experience depression and/or anxiety related to the trauma they experienced before coming to our Home. Studies have shown that simply being near a fish tank lowers anxiety levels. Other studies have shown that it reduces heart rate and blood pressure levels.
“…seeing the fish swimming, floating, playing, and being cared for represents both a regulating and aspirational activity.”
So why does water have this effect on us? According to marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, people have a “blue mind” that activates when we are in or near water. This state is described as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”
This “blue mind” state allows your brain to rest from overstimulation and stimulate a meditative state, both of which are critical in helping our kids deal with the effects of trauma.
What is "blue mind?"
a state our mind enters when in or near water
characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity
gives a sense of general happiness and satisfaction
Our fish tank in the Learning Center, where our kids do their homework and work with their tutors, is very helpful to get our children in the right space to focus on their schoolwork.
“The fish tank in the Learning Center helps provide some calm energy—fish bobbing around, water flowing through the filters, [and] dim light refracting through the water,” Vice President of the Academy Patrick Bittorf said.
Our fish tanks aren’t just located where they can help the children in our care, but also in our Admissions waiting area. Families coming to learn more about Mercy Home have often commented that they find the presence of the fish tank relaxing.
“Our fish live very simple lives and our youth, unfortunately, do not,” said Admissions Clinician Dennis Bourne. “So, seeing the fish swimming, floating, playing, and being cared for represents both a regulating and aspirational activity.”
Bourne also noted that the fish tanks also provided benefits to the Admissions coworkers who care for the fish and the tank.
“We tend to adopt anyone who lives or works in our hallway, and that includes our fish,” he explained. “We mourn together when the fish die. There’s a team-building aspect to their presence as well.”
In addition to the therapeutic benefits, the fish tanks at Mercy Home serve another purpose: teaching our kids about how to properly care for pets. In fact, we rely on some of our kids to help us feed the fish and maintain their tanks!