May is observed as mental health awareness month

Since 1949, May has been a month that is dedicated to acknowledging the 44 million adults and children who experience mental health conditions each year. Over the last 7 years, the Affordable Care Act has helped those suffering from illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, and Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder the affordable health care that they need.

One of our most profound obligations as a Nation is to support the men and women in uniform who return home and continue fighting battles against mental illness….Let us strive to ensure people living with mental health conditions know that they are not alone, that hope exists, and that the possibility of healing and thriving is real. Together, we can help everyone get the support they need to recover as they continue along the journey to get well.
— Barack Obama, Proclamation 9433 of April 28, 2016

Earlier this year, a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Party Task Force was established by President Barack Obama. Aiming to ensure that health coverage is the same for those with mental health ailments as it is for those in need of medical and surgical care, the elementary message is that individuals living with mental health conditions should receive the help that they need.

With our country at war, many of our military personal are returning home traumatized by their warzone experiences. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a heightened version of this anguish and although it is so prevalent, there is still no cure.

….And that’s where the dog comes in....

Just like any specially trained service dogs, a psychiatric service dog plays a crucial role in the life of their handler, assisting in daily tasks that can become difficult for them to handle on their own. Trained to mitigate their handler’s specific disabilities, the work that a service dog does depends on the symptoms displayed by a number of varying psychiatric disorders. Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Autism, Chronic Depression, Anxiety Disorders, and Schizophrenia are a few examples of mental ailments that psychiatric service dogs offer assistance in their handler’s daily activities.

So what exactly do these psychiatric service dogs do?

With such a fluctuation in the symptoms of different mental disorders, each service dog is specifically trained to meet the needs of their handler. In order to better explain how each pooch does their part to help, we will go through each disease specifically.

A person with Autism finds it incredibly difficult to connect with the world around them, causing feelings of isolation that affect almost every aspect of the individual’s life and daily activities. This being said one of, if not the most, difficult task for an Autistic individual is the ability communicate and interact with the world around them… and this is where their psychiatric service dog comes in. Imagine a child with Autism struggling to express their thoughts and feelings, yet lacking the communication skills to use

Just for moment, put yourself in the shoes of an Autistic child: a child whose mind is filled with magically magnificent and incredibly unique talents, but not knowing how to express their inner beauty with the world. Most people learn and understand each other through communication, using words to describe who they are and what they believe. Since most Autistic individuals are unable to communicate and express themselves vocally, feelings of loneliness and even fear can easily encompass their lives and personalities. Luckily there is a way out, and it comes with the devoted companionship of a four-legged friend.

For a child with Autism, a dog provides somewhat of a link between the “two worlds” that the child (or adult) has been struggling to understand for their entire lives. A service dog can provide better understanding of what a relationship is, not by speaking words, but by sharing unconditional love, protection and confidence.

If you have ever come home from an awful day and at and open the front door to see your pup’s smiling face looking up at you with excitement, you have experienced first hand how a dog can relieve depression, Most Americans experience symptoms of depression at some point in their life, but port a portion of these people experience a perpetual sadness which can become a very crippling condition. Feeling alone, trapped and unable to function, those suffering from depression struggle with simple daily activities… even just getting out of bed.

Psychiatric service dog, Bradley, reminds his owner to take their medication!

Psychiatric service dog, Bradley, reminds his owner to take their medication!

Regarding these symptoms, a psychiatric service dog (or just about any dog!) can have a huge impact on the daily function of one suffering from Chronic Depression. Having a loving, four-legged friend who only has eyes for you offers a sense of comfort and companionship that is hard to refuse.

Panic Disorder
Individuals suffering from Panic Disorder often find themselves in a situation resulting in debilitating panic and fear that would be seemingly harmless to others. This panic quickly escalates into a panic attack, which is where a psychiatric service dog comes in. A dog offers immediate comfort once noticing their handler beginning to panic and even offer something else to focus on in order to keep the fear from escalating. If the situation doesn’t subside, the psychiatric service dog can get the attention of someone nearby to summon a doctor or even retrieve the medicine that may need to be administered for the panic attack to subside.

For someone living with schizophrenia, even the simplest of tasks may prove almost impossible. A crippling psychiatric disorder, individuals struggle to distinguish between the existence of two worlds: the real world and the psychiatrically induced world. It can be very hard living with such a debilitating condition, but just the very comfort of being around a service dog helped the individual feel cared for and more secure. Giving their handler something to focus on other than their condition, a service dog can help with day to day functions which may otherwise be impossible.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

There is no cure for PTSD and, although there are treatments that have demonstrated success, many individuals suffering from post traumatic stress have trouble admitting that they may need help. Many war veterans that return home have difficulty adjusting to the civilian world again; they are used to authoritative relationships and always having someone to watch their back and a great majority find it hard to feel safe after returning from an active war zone. A psychiatric service dog proves to be the best of friend to an individual suffering from these symptoms. Dogs are vigilant: they immediately let you know of any danger nearby, easing any paranoid thoughts. Dogs also enjoy authoritative relationships and prove trustworthy doing so... they actually enjoy being told what to do and will always stay by your side!

Perhaps the most important service that a pooch can offer a veteran is helping them to remember feelings of love. After fighting a war, the world can seem pretty convoluted and happiness can be hard to find. Dr. Tracy Stecker narrated a perfect example of this after she spoke with a veteran who had just bought a puppy.

I spoke to a Veteran recently who bought a puppy. He didn’t want the puppy sleeping on his bed so he bought his puppy an expensive puppy bed. He was thrilled to introduce the bed to his new puppy and was outraged when the puppy ate it. He yelled at the puppy and disciplined him. He then told me that he sat down feeling miserable about yelling at the puppy and his puppy eating the bed. His puppy came up beside him and licked his face. He turned and looked at the puppy and said, “What are you licking me for? I am mad at you!” The puppy wagged his tail and licked him again. And he felt love.
— Tracy Stecker, Ph.D.



Alison has been with Dan's Dog Walking and Pet Sitting since 2014 and has loved every second of it!  She frequently hikes with her dog Maggie in the woods (click link to watch the awesome video!) and loves playing with her on the beach.  Aly is a major advocate for the use of all natural pet products and specializes not only in giving animals the highest level of care, but also in creating educational material for our clients on how to best care for their pets with organic solutions.



Sources: Psychology Today, Tracy Stecker Ph.D.; Please Don't Pet Me; Canine Journal