Service animals have long been available to assist visually and hearing impaired individuals, as well as people in wheelchairs, but did you know that they can also be of invaluable assistance to people with depression? In recent years a specialized group of service animals, most commonly dogs, have been trained to specifically help people with depression and other emotional disabilities such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Training is often simple, and no official certification is required by law to own a service animal.

Service animals that are designated to work with people with emotional disorders are essentially trained to offer affection and companionship, so that their owner feels less isolated.  It’s been medically proven that caring for an animal improves the overall mood and well-being of elderly people, as well as those with chronic illnesses.  Like those who assist people with physical disabilities, service animals for people with emotional disorders can also be trained to remind their owner when to take medication, and even help locate lost items, as short-term memory problems are a common issue with chronic depression.  They also encourage their owners to get outdoors and exercise, as well as socialize with other pet owners, all of which can aid in recovery from depression and other mental health issues.

While golden retrievers and German shepherds are the most common breeds of dogs used for standard service animals, nearly any breed can be utilized as a service animal for emotional disorders.  Ideally, it should be a breed that can be trained to learn simple commands, is comfortable being around people, particularly children, and interacts well with other dogs.  As with seeing eye dogs, they should be made readily identifiable as service animals while out in public, so that they will be allowed access in buildings and businesses where animals are normally not permitted.  This can be done by purchasing a service animal vest, an ID badge or collar tags.  Most businesses are required by law to allow access  to service animals.

Though training dogs to be service animals for depressed people is relatively new, it’s likely that, with evidence showing that prescription anti-depressants are not as effective as once believed, individuals seeking relief from emotional disorders will turn more towards alternative treatments.  Taking on a service animal is a considerable responsibility, and one must be absolutely prepared for it, but it’s also a responsibility that comes with a lot of wonderful benefits, for both dog and owner.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

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