Written by guest blogger Jessica Brody, OurBestFriends.pet
People who suffer from mental disorders are increasingly finding comfort and relief in being paired with psychiatric service dogs. Already, the service is ranked the fourth common use of trained dog companionship in America, after helping the visually-impaired, the immobile, and the deaf, a University of California, Davis, study found.
The practice is gaining more traction in treatment centers, and has been notably spreading as more sufferers look for canine support to help them get through daily life, the study concluded. The loyal animals are helping recovering addicts, autistic children, seizure-prone individuals and sufferers of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) overcome negative episodes while providing a constant loving and affectionate presence.
The companion animals assist their handlers in multiple ways. They can be trained to remind their handlers when to take medication, to comfortingly lie down on a hyperventilating person, and to monitor the safety of an autistic child. They also help ground the mentally ill who feel anxious out in public.
Here are a few reasons explaining how the trained companion animals assist their owners:
Encourage More Exercise
Dogs need constant exercise and contact with the outdoors. This fact of canine care automatically encourages their handlers to embrace long walks and outdoor exercise, which boosts endorphins in the brain. As a result, anxiety and depression are alleviated as they become fitter in body.
Enhance Social Interaction
By forcing the mentally ill person to leave her home more, where she is more likely to feel lonely and depressed if holed up too much inside, the companion animal breaks unhealthy behavioral patterns. Because people love petting and greeting dogs, the service animal, by serving as a center of attention, continually encourages her handler to socially interact with people who approach the pair.
They Make Outings in Public More Feasible
Handlers trust their service dogs will know what to do in public should an episode arise. When such meltdowns happen, the dog comforts the afflicted or guides the latter to the nearest exit. This feeling of permanent security encourages the handler to attend large group gatherings, in the knowledge that such situations won’t get out of hand because of the service animal.
They Help with Treatment Therapy
People attending treatment therapy sessions find it hard to discuss painful topics of the past and present. With a service dog present, however, to soothe and comfort them physically and emotionally, the patients are more likely to open up and discuss their trauma, paving the way for success in treatment.
They Forge Deep Bonds
For people who are sensitive to the social stigma of being labelled “mentally ill,” building a human-canine relationship that is founded on mutual loyalty and unconditional love is incredibly healing. The handler also benefits from learning to be responsible and disciplined in caring for the animal. Keeping to a set walking and feeding routine, for example, empowers the handler and grounds her by encouraging her to follow an organized day-to-day schedule.
From the very moment of its adoption, the owner comes up with creative ways to bond with her animal and make her feel comfortable in the new home, from setting aside a specialized corner in the home for the animal, to buying her toys, a dog bed, and treats, to constantly playing with the companion animal. Constant vocalized communication with the service dog also deepens the friendship bond, and calms the owner down during difficult moments.
The owner of the psychiatric service animal reaps a load of benefits from the canine’s presence. Altogether, the dog promotes self-confidence, self-esteem, enhanced social interaction, greater independence and a sense of safety. It is common to have psychiatric patients credit their animal companion with a greater healing, and to being an invaluable source of support when stigmas against their mental disorders remain alive and well in society.