According to Mental Health America, a psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a trained service animal that assists people diagnosed with a mental illness. There’s no specific mental illness that qualifies a person for a psychiatric service dog; what’s more important is what tasks the psychiatric service dog can do for the person they serve. This article will look at some of the mental disorders that may benefit from a psychiatric service dog.
What are Service Dogs?
Service dogs receive training to perform tasks that assist a person with a disability. Typically, these tasks are activities that their handler is unable to do on their own. With the help of service dogs, people with disabilities can lead safer and more independent lives.
Service dogs are vital to the health and well-being of their handler. Federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allow people with disabilities to travel and enter public areas with their service dog — even when no pets are allowed in those areas. These laws also exempt service dog handlers from paying any pet fees as service dogs are considered medical necessities and not regarded pets.
Psychiatric Service Dogs For Psychiatric Illnesses and Mental Health
Most people are familiar with service dogs, like guide dogs, who perform tasks for individuals who are vision impaired. A lesser-known group of service animals are psychiatric service dogs.
Unlike most physical disabilities that are identifiable, such as paralysis or amputation, mental illness is an invisible disability. Severe chronic pain, cognitive disabilities, diabetes, and mental illnesses are all examples of invisible disabilities.
Invisible disabilities are not always apparent, yet the illness exists and may benefit from a psychiatric service dog.ESADoctors, est. 2015
Because mental illness is an invisible disability, people don’t immediately connect psychiatric disorders to service dogs. After all, it’s not easy to understand how a service dog could benefit someone with an invisible condition. Yet, psychiatric dogs are becoming more commonplace as a PSD can do various tasks to help their handler overcome their illness. Here are a few examples of the mental illnesses that a PSD can assist with.
If you are interested to know if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog, we are happy to connect you with a licensed healthcare provider so they may evaluate your disability.
If your mental disorder could benefit from a PSD, your healthcare provider will issue a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter for you.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a response to trauma that includes persistent and long-term behavioral changes, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. PTSD can stem from events like abuse, sexual assault, or military service. For people with PTSD, the memories of the distressing event can cause intense fear and anxiety, making daily life challenging.
A psychiatric service dog for PTSD can help their handler by:
- Acting as a “block” between their handler and another person by physically standing between them.
- Acting as a “cover” by walking behind their handler in crowds, keeping others away.
- Acting as a “scout” and searching a room or home for intruders before their handler enters.
Research indicates that psychiatric service dogs can help people with PTSD manage day-to-day activities and encourage connections with a person’s support system. Veterans Affairs, for example, who are paired with service dogs display better interpersonal relationships and fewer psychiatric symptoms than veterans without service dogs.
Anxiety disorders are more than a fleeting feeling of stress or nervousness. These disorders are chronic and ongoing, in which people display excessive worry for over six months. Anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities and cause a reduction in work or school productivity. People with anxiety might experience sudden periods of intense, debilitating fear called anxiety attacks. A psychiatric service dog for anxiety may perform the following tasks:
- Lead their handler out of a crowd or toward an exit during a panic attack.
- Detect signs of anxiety of an oncoming panic attack and alert their handler.
- Lead handler away from identified triggers.
When it comes to anxiety, it’s essential for a person to reduce their heightened emotions. Psychiatric service dogs can perform repetitive stress-reducing activities for their owner, like licking their hand or patting their leg.
For some people, depression is a debilitating—and dangerous—illness. If left untreated, a person with depression may struggle to hold a job or maintain family obligations. They may even have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. A psychiatric service dog can help prevent their handler from focusing on negative intrusive thoughts and push them to complete daily tasks. A psychiatric service dog for depression may perform the following tasks:
- Remind their handler to take medication and perform activities of daily living (like bathing, brushing teeth, eating).
- Prevent their handler from continuing self-injurious behavior or alerting others when it occurs.
- Provide tactile stimulation for feelings of isolation or distress.
Depression may present itself differently in various people. For people who feel angry when they’re depressed, a PSD can alert their handler when they start to show signs of anger and aggression.
Psychiatric Service Dogs Serve All Types of Mental Illness
In summary, there are no specific mental illnesses that qualify a person for a psychiatric service dog. Regardless of the disability, a PSD must receive specific training that directly relates to their handler’s condition. A psychiatric service dog can be the life-changing support that a person needs to manage the symptoms of their disability.