You may be aware that emotional support animals help people with depression. But can someone diagnosed with depression also be eligible for a service dog?
The answer is yes. Depression can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Depression can qualify if it is so chronic and severe that it substantially limits major life activities.
Furthermore, to be eligible, you must also have a need for a dog that has been trained to perform tasks directly relating to your condition. If you only need the dog’s general presence for comfort and emotional support, that is not enough. In that case, an ESA is more suitable for you.
Where do you get a service dog for depression?
Service dogs used for mental illnesses like depression are referred to as psychiatric service dogs or PSD. A PSD can be any breed and size, as long as they are physically capable of providing the tasks you need and have the demeanor and intelligence to perform those tasks properly.
There are organizations that train service dogs for adoption. However, the cost of acquiring a fully trained service dog is usually very high (often tens of thousands of dollars).
An alternative route allowed by the ADA is to adopt a dog and train it yourself, either entirely on your own or with the help of a professional trainer. You would be responsible for any fees you pay for training assistance, the cost of adopting the dog from a shelter, rescue or breeder, and basic health costs like veterinarians visits and shots.
What documents do you need?
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need documents to prove you have a service dog. However, many handlers with psychiatric service dogs with depression obtain PSD letters.
A PSD letter is a signed letter from a licensed healthcare professional stating whether you have an ADA-eligible psychiatric disability. A PSD letter provides peace of mind and a starting point for individuals on the path to service dog ownership.
If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we can connect you with a licensed healthcare provider.
How do service dogs help people with depression?
Service dogs can assist individuals with depression by performing a variety of tasks, including:
- Alert changes in mood: Some service dogs are trained to detect changes in their handler’s mood and behavior, and can alert their handler or others when they sense that their handler may be experiencing a depressive episode.
- Responsive touch: Service dogs can provide deep pressure therapy or tactile stimulation (such as by licking) when they sense their handlers are in a crisis.
- Medication retrieval. Service dogs can be trained to bring medications to their handlers at the appropriate times.
Psychiatric service dogs also confer other benefits just by being around their owners:
- Calming presence. Service dogs can provide a reassuring presence.
- Acting as a grounding mechanism. Service dogs can help their handlers stay present in the moment, rather than ruminating on negative thoughts and feelings.
- Providing a sense of purpose. Caring for a service dog can give a sense of purpose and responsibility, which can be particularly helpful for individuals struggling with depression.
- Providing companionship and emotional support. A service dog can provide constant companionship and emotional support to their handler, which can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Encouraging physical activity. Service dogs require regular exercise, which can encourage their handlers to engage in physical activity. Exercise has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression.
Individuals with psychiatric service dogs are entitled to accommodation at home and in public venues. This means that businesses, landlords, and airlines must allow for service dogs free of charge.
It’s important to note that not all individuals with depression will meet ADA requirements. The determination of disability status depends on individual circumstances and various factors, including the severity of the impairment and its impact on major life activities.