Mental illness can be a challenging and isolating experience. Managing symptoms, maintaining relationships, and participating in daily activities can be difficult. Service animals can benefit people with mental health conditions, helping them navigate obstacles and live more fulfilling lives.
While traditionally associated with physical disabilities, service animals have expanded their scope to include various mental health conditions. Research has shown that interacting with animals can release oxytocin and reduce stress hormones, promoting calmness and emotional well-being.
September is National Service Dog Month, a time to celebrate the vital role that service animals play in our society. Service animals assist people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions. They help improve their handlers’ quality of life, providing them with physical and emotional support.
Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that help their handlers with their mental health conditions. For individuals with conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and autism spectrum disorders, service animals can sense oncoming episodes and respond with comforting actions. They might nudge, paw, or provide a reassuring presence, helping to ground their partners and mitigate the intensity of their symptoms.
Their ability to interrupt behaviors like self-harm or panic attacks can be life-saving in critical moments. Among some of their practical benefits:
- Providing physical support: Service animals can provide physical support to their handlers during episodes of anxiety or panic, such as by providing deep pressure therapy or simply being present.
- Alerting to triggers: Service animals can be trained to alert their handlers to stimuli that may cause a mental health episode, such as a crowded environment or a particular noise. This can give the handler time to prepare and avoid the trigger.
- Distracting from triggers: Service animals can also be trained to distract their handlers from triggers by providing them with a task to focus on, such as petting or playing fetch.
- Retrieving items: Service animals can retrieve items for their handlers, such as medication or a phone. This can be helpful for people who have difficulty moving around or have trouble remembering things.
- Accompanying to appointments: Service animals can accompany their handlers to appointments, such as doctor’s visits or therapy sessions. This can provide the handler with emotional support and help them to feel more comfortable in unfamiliar settings.
In addition to their practical benefits, service animals provide several therapeutic benefits for people with mental health conditions. These benefits include:
- Reduced stress and anxiety: A service animal’s presence can help reduce stress and anxiety levels in people with mental health conditions by providing security and companionship, which can help ground the handler during challenging moments.
- Increased self-esteem and confidence: Service animals can help increase self-esteem and confidence in people with mental health conditions by giving the handler a sense of purpose and accomplishment to help them feel more independent and capable.
- Improved social skills: Service animals can help improve social skills in people with mental health conditions because they provide a natural conversation starter and help the handler feel more comfortable in social situations.
- Reduced isolation: Service animals can help reduce isolation in people with mental health conditions by providing the handler with a companion and enabling the handler to connect with others in the community.
The Profound Bond
The bond between a service animal and its handler is unlike any other. Service animals provide their handlers unconditional love and support, and they can help improve the quality of life for people with mental health conditions.
If you are considering getting a service animal, it is important to do your research and find a reputable organization that can help you match with the right animal for your needs.
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- National Library of Medicine, “The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog–Owner Relationship.“
- The Service Dogs, “Deep Pressure Therapy Dog [DPT Service Dog] Explained.”
Photo by Adam Griffith on Unsplash