Service dog wearing blue coat with name tag and pass
How Service Dogs Change the Lives of those with Mental Health Problems
June 28, 2018

People battling serious mental health disorders suffer from more than their illness. They also have to overcome social discrimination on top of handling symptoms that may lead to a breakdown in public. To manage these issues, people with mental health conditions are increasingly paired with service dogs to help them cope with their disorders and counteract episodes, while allowing for a bond of deep empathic love and support to form. Incidentally – these dogs are often prime candidates for modelling as they’re exceptionally well trained and well behaved. The practice is spreading quickly. A study conducted by the UC-Davis, found the “invisibly disabled” — psychiatric patient — to be the fourth largest segment of the population to seek the companionship of service dogs. Typically, the dogs are paired with sobering addicts, seizure sufferers, the autistic and people suffering from PTSD, such as veterans of war. For example, trained canines assist their handlers by fetching objects, serving as a living and breathing medication “alarm clocks,” as well as helping to calm children with autistism who are experiencing an episode. The dogs also give their handlers the opportunity to be responsible and disciplined, which helps them take responsibility for other aspects of their lives.



Here are some common ways psychiatric service animals may assist their owner:


Exercise Is Encouraged

Because service dogs need to be walked every day and have constant playdate sessions, their owners get their fill of fresh air, exercise and a welcome change of environment. Getting out of the house on a regular basis has been shown to help lower anxiety and depression while promoting physical health.


Social Isolation is Minimized

Mental health service dogs are good companions to have in public. People often happily engage with the animal in everyday scenarios and sometimes connect in meaningful ways with the handlers. Because those who suffer from mental health issues are typically self-conscious about their condition around other people, particularly with strangers, having a dog can help to gently “break the ice” in a way that feels safe to the handler.


Handlers Go Out in Public More

Psychiatric service dogs can instantly detect when their handler is struggling/ suffering from an episode. In response, they comfort their owner or guide them to a less crowded place if the two are out in public. The dog’s presence is often reassuring to the handler, which makes him more willing to venture out in public.


They are a Welcome Presence at Therapy Sessions

Patients recovering from severe trauma, such as sobering addicts and PTSD sufferers, often have problems opening up in therapy. It can be difficult for them to address the pains of the past, their problems with physical symptoms, and other tender topics. The presence of a service dog takes the edge off their therapy conversations, which calms them down and helps them process their traumas.

Some treatment programs assign service dogs to sobering addicts and PTSD sufferers. In such cases, trauma sufferers and addicts are allowed to take care of the dog for short or extended periods. Bonds are formed between patient and dog which helps promote a successful treatment for the patient: For example, sobering addicts who do not take care of a service dog typically relapse at a rate between 40 and 60 percent.


The Takeaway

Trained psychiatric companion dogs are more than just assistance animals. They help their owners live more grounded, stable lives while encouraging human-to-human connection. They also boost self-esteem and self-confidence in their afflicted owners and inject fun and play in everyday situations. For their handlers, these amazing animals present a new lease on life.

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