According to recent studies in 2023, roughly 32.3% of American adults have reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety can be crippling, leaving many feeling like there is no hope. Today, there are many different forms of treatment, including medications. 

What many people may not realize is that a trained Psychiatric Service Dog can be incredibly helpful for people suffering from depression and anxiety. These dogs are trained to provide services to help alleviate the symptoms of many mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. 

Like any service dog, dogs that are chosen to serve as a psychiatric service dog, (PSD) have to be well-mannered and non-aggressive. These dogs perform tasks and services just like a standard service dog would do for a physical disability. PSDs are generally given to those who have a severe enough mental disorder that it prevents them from living a normal, quality life. 

What is Depression? 

Depression is a mental disorder that affects many people around the world, but what exactly is depression? Depression is a mental illness with many levels of severity. Generally, depression is when a person exhibits two or more of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The symptoms for depression can include: persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, fatigue, lack of energy, or feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, difficulty sleeping, waking too early in the morning, or oversleeping, changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes, physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not go away with treatment, thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts. 

People who suffer from a more severe version of depression may be able to have their doctor prescribe a psychiatric service dog, to help them with their depression. 

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is another mental disorder that affects many people around the world as well. Anxiety is a normal emotion for people, but many suffer from extended anxiety for months or even years at a time. Anxiety has many different forms, from general anxiety disorder, to social anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. 

Symptoms of anxiety can include, feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge, being easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating, being irritable, having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep to name a few. 

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog? 

What is a psychiatric service dog? A psychiatric service dog is a special type of service dog that is trained to provide tasks for those suffering from certain mental illnesses. PSDs are often prescribed by doctors to help with disorders like anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, mood disorders, and dissociative disorders. 

PSDs are specially trained dogs who are able to perform specific tasks to assist with their owners’ disorders and disabilities. Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained not only to provide comfort to their handlers, but also to everyday tasks that their handlers may struggle to do on their own. 

These specially trained service dogs often perform tasks like bringing medication, fetch the phone, provide tactile stimulation, interrupt and redirect, just to name a few. PSDs, like other service dogs, are also able to assist their handlers when they are out in public, as they are also trained to work in crowded and public areas. 

PSDs, like other service dogs, have special rights. Because PSDs are so highly trained and they perform tasks for their handlers, they are protected by law. Handlers are able to bring their PSDs into public places without discrimination, as the dog is a working dog and is there to assist their handler. 

How Can You Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? 

Getting a real PSD is a process, there are certain criteria that must be met before you can even get started. Before the process even begins, you must have a disorder that affects your day to day life quality. Additional criteria that must be met includes, the ability to participate in the dogs training, having the ability to issue commands to the dog, the ability to care for the dog, creating a stable home environment, having the ability to pay for the dog and its upkeep, and a written recommendation from your healthcare provider. 

One big factor when thinking about getting a service dog, psychiatric or not, is the cost. Training a service dog is an arduous process, and the training can be expensive. Because of the expenses with the training process it is highly recommended that those considering a PSD take the time to really evaluate the commitment and expense before starting the process. 

Training a service dog is a lengthy process and it is one that the handler should be involved in. Before any training can begin potential dogs must be evaluated and assessed to ensure they meet all behavior criteria. Dogs that are being considered for service work must have a good temperament and be well behaved. 

Service dogs not only need basic obedience training, but they also need to complete rigorous training to learn their tasks. Dogs also must undergo public access training to ensure they are capable of handling situations in public. 

What kind of tasks does a Psychiatric Service Dog perform for those suffering from Depression and Anxiety?

While PSDs can be used to help a wide variety of mental disorders, PSDs can be an incredible asset for those suffering from depression and anxiety. PSDs are trained to perform any combination of tasks that their handler needs. These tasks can include; picking up on signs before they start, distracting you during an anxiety attack, applying physical pressure, get medications, providing a sense of safety, alerting others if needed, even waking you up in the morning. 

These dogs are trained to any combination of tasks that a handler needs to help improve their quality of life. These tasks can include the ones listed above or any other tasks that a handler may need to help with symptoms and quality of life. 

Conclusion

Psychiatric Service Dogs are an amazing option for many people who suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety.  PSDs can improve quality of life for many people suffering from mental illnesses and disorders. These service dogs are highly trained, and evaluated to ensure the best temperaments and behavior. 

The process can be lengthy, and expensive however it has been proven that these service dogs can be an incredible asset in the treatment of and quality of life improvements.

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Ara Hughey
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