Service dogs are most commonly thought of as helping the physically impaired. However, as mental health becomes a more acceptable topic, psychiatric service dogs are starting to make a public appearance. Psychiatric service dogs help people cope with a mental disorder and improve their quality of life with specifically trained behaviors. From keeping crowds at bay to fetching medication, here are a few ways a service dog can help someone with a mental disorder.

Reducing Anxiety and Treating Panic Attacks

Just having a dog around can help treat anxiety (this Rover article explains why in detail). Petting a dog or cat relieves stress while dogs in public can work to mitigate social anxiety by being the focus instead of the handler. A trained service dog may be taught to perform tasks such as holding back crowds, licking and nudging at signs of nervousness, or even stopping panic attacks.

A large dog will keep others at bay by lying down in front of their handler while smaller dogs can stand or sit. Small dogs may be held to help handlers cope with nervousness while larger dogs will stand close, licking fingers or allowing themselves to be petted. For panic attacks, large dogs will use their weight and partially lie on the back or chest of their handler while small dogs may hop on top of their owner. The pressure helps reduce hyperventilation and encourages tranquility.

Aiding Kids with Autism

What many people do not realize is that children with autism can be violent and often are when they have a sensory meltdown or are frustrated due to a caretaker’s inability to understand what they want. This risk of violence can lead a family with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child to isolate themselves. Fear of how their child will behave prevents them from taking part in group events.

A service dog can be harnessed to an ASD child, preventing them from running away or straying too far. The presence of the dog is also calming, making group events less stressful. Many dogs can also be trained to sense a meltdown and use their weight or other means to divert or end the meltdown.

Reducing Risk of Addiction

Mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand as people self-medicate for untreated symptoms. Owning a pet or service dog provides a sense of responsibility, making a person less likely to abuse substances. Furthermore, a service dog can prevent many of the potential risk factors for addiction including depression and social isolation by playing, demanding walks, and providing affection.

Aiding People with PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly found in veterans and survivors of abuse or assault. The common symptom including nightmares, flashbacks, agitation, hypervigilance, and intrusive thoughts can impair daily life.

A service dog trained for PTSD will be able to perform tasks such as blocking crowds, leading the handler to the nearest exit, disrupting nightmares, comforting after a negative memory or nightmare, or alerting a specific person to an episode. All of these actions can make life much easier for those with PTSD.

Service dogs are not only for the physically disabled. People with mental disabilities struggle just as much with daily life and can benefit from a trained dog. From anxiety and depression to PTSD, if you have a mental disability, getting a service dog may be just what you need to make daily life easier.

Author: Chloe Pearson