Mental health service dogs work with humans who have mental disabilities. They offer support to people facing the challenges of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks and, anxiety attacks, among other mental disorders.

Mental Health Service Dogs- Mental Illness

Mental Illness comes in many forms with many symptoms and signs.  Individuals with mood disorders such as bipolar can experience uncontrollable mood swings. These highs and lows are not a choice the individual makes but a consequence of a chemical imbalance within the brain. The mood swings may result in compulsive behavior such as gambling or drinking or may render the person bed-ridden and unable to complete daily tasks. Medications are highly effective in treating mood disorders, however the roller coaster of emotions and social, financial and health consequences of these experiences can lead to feelings of shame, fear and paranoia. These feelings, combined with neurologically impaired mood swings, and medication side effects often leave the sufferer isolated, anxious and depressed. Service dogs offer a unique, non-judgmental, ever present comfort. More importantly they serve as an early alert system to mood swings and emotional changes so the individual can engage in positive coping strategies.

Mental Health Service Dogs- Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders (phobias, PTSD, panic attacks) can be extremely debilitating to the sufferer. High and persistent levels of anxiety or even panic attacks can be brought on by a thing, situation or environment that the individual is sensitive to. Sometimes it may be crowds, loud sounds or emotional situations. During such episodes the individual’s respiration’s and heart rate increase, they begin to sweat, their eyes dilate and they may even vomit. Some anxiety disorders stem from a history of abuse, others however are “organic” which means that they are a result of a chemical and processing imbalance in the brain. These disorders respond well to medication and also have a success rate with “rescue medication” which can be taken at the onset of an episode. For the individual, the constant fear of such episodes, in public or private, and the uncertainty of when they may encounter a “trigger” can leave them isolated and feeling hopeless. Service dogs can lessen the severity of these symptoms by offering a variety of calming behaviors. The consistency of the service dog also eases fear of the unknown, because the service dog is always available to go for assist or possibly rescue medication.

Autism Service Dogs

Mental Health Service Dogs- PTSD

Recovering from PTSD is a process. Evidence-based treatments for PTSD help people do things they have been avoiding because of their PTSD, such as standing close to a stranger or going into a building without scanning it for danger first. Evidence-based treatments can also help people feel better. Dogs can help you deal with some parts of living with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective PTSD treatment.

Although people with PTSD who have a service dog for a physical disability or emotional support dog may feel comforted by the animal, there is some chance they may continue to believe that they cannot do certain things on their own. For example, if the dog keeps strangers from coming too close, the owner will not have a chance to learn that they can handle this situation without the dog. Becoming dependent on a dog can get in the way of the recovery process for PTSD. Based on what we know from research, evidence-based treatment provides the best chance of recovery from PTSD.


Jason Statson

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