Mental Disabilities and Service Dogs: How Can They Help?

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The most common image of a service dog is a yellow Labrador, patiently guiding a blind handler across a busy street. People typically view service dogs as only being of use to the physically disabled, aiding with tasks such as retrieving items, acting as physical support, or keeping a crowd at bay during a seizure. Though physical service dogs tend to help those with physical disabilities, service dogs can also be of great use to those with mental disabilities or disorders. Below, we list just a few of the ways a service dog can be trained to combat mental disabilities.

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Providing Cues

For those with ASD, successful communication and social interaction can be extraordinarily difficult. Based on where the individual falls on the spectrum, he may fail to pick up social cues, or he may have an inability to express himself, which could result in inappropriate behavior. A service dog can be trained to calm an individual with ASD who becomes frustrated by misunderstanding. During less severe episodes, the service can walk up to the individual and nudge him, alerting him that his behavior is not appropriate.

Anxiety and Depression: Soothing

Those with anxiety and depression often find themselves struggling in large groups, outings, and other certain situations. These individuals also may have difficulty with basic tasks at home. A dog that exists to make the person feel better with affection is not considered a service dog. It is a companion animal that has a right to live with the person but does not have the right to be in public places. On the other hand, a service dog can be trained to mitigate panic attacks with licking, pawing, or any form of interference. The dog can lead the person out of a crowd when he becomes too upset by close quarters, or the dog can serve as an excuse to leave an upsetting situation by acting as though it needs to go outside or is distressed. The services a dog can perform for individuals with anxiety and depression are numerous, but they all aim to soothe the person as quickly as possible.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Supporting

People with PTSD often struggle with the unpredictability of being in public and the isolation and depression that comes with staying at home. A service dog not only prompts the person to get outside and exercise, but it also can be trained to mitigate the effects of an episode while in public. The potential for violent outbursts can make going out risky. With a service dog, the individual can give a command and be led from a crowd to the nearest exit or to a reliable person for support. Service dogs also help combat depression simply by providing affection.

Often, PTSD goes hand-in-hand with addiction, as self-medication through drugs and alcohol is all too prevalent in individuals who have the disorder. Service dogs offer a reason for the person to stay sober and aware while working against the need to self-medicate by easing the symptoms of depression and supporting their handler during episodes. They even can be trained to call for emergency help with a special phone meant for service dogs in the event of an overdose.

Service dogs are incredibly beneficial to anyone with a disability, regardless of whether it is mental or physical. Those with mental disabilities or disorders may feel apprehensive about seeking the help of a service dog since they do not look disabled. If you or a loved one believes you will benefit from a service dog for a mental disability, then you should seek one. The most important thing is that you get help to lead a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.

Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created AddictionHub.org, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.

Image via Pixabay by YamaBSM

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