4 Benefits Of Service Dogs For Depression

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/10/2020

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 264 million people are discovered to be suffering from depression globally. Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It's technically characterized by feelings of sadness and loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. Other symptoms of depression that can interfere with your work, studies, relationships, and overall well-being may include appetite changes, sleeping problems, increased fatigue, feeling guilty or worthless, and difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions. All these indicate how depression can be a severe mental health condition.

Service Dogs for Depression

Fortunately, depression is a mental health challenge that can be treated and managed. There are different treatment options for depression. One of the coping strategies for depression is getting a service dog for depression. Service dogs are capable of reminding you to take your meds, getting your phone to you if you are in distress, calling 911,  helping you through medication side effects, supporting you when you need to get calm, offering you a reason for going out, help you prevent emotional overload.

What Is A Service Dog For Depression?

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Basically, a service dog is a properly trained canine that can assist an individual with a disability. The dog can help perform responsibilities that may include guiding those that have visual challenges, protecting unhealthy people who may experience a seizure, and standing as a companion to those suffering from isolation or feelings of loneliness, and other things. A service dog provides incredible support to those with both physical limitations and mental health struggles.

Going back in history, service dogs were specifically trained for individuals with physical disabilities. However, the idea has become expanded now— they are also used by people with mental illnesses or those navigating learning problems. These trained canines can support those on the spectrum and those suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can also assist those who may be predisposed to a panic attack or stress disorder-related episodes.

According to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), for a dog to be formally recognized as a service dog, they must undergo training that will qualify them to eventually accomplish specific tasks connected with someone's disability. According to the ADA, dogs trained only to provide comfort, or emotional support can't be considered service animals.

What Are The Types Of Service Dogs For Depression and  Mental Health Conditions?

There are different types of trained dogs prepared to provide valuable support to those suffering from one emotional challenge or the other. The following are various options that can help your depression;

  • Service Dogs: Service dogs are trained canine to execute specific tasks for someone who has a disability such as a sight impairment or hearing loss. They can also help those suffering from mental health challenges such as depression, Post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Examples of service dogs, according to ADA, include a guide dog or seeing-eye dog, hearing or signal dog, psychiatric service dog, seizure response dog, and sensory signal dogs (for autism). If you have a service dog, you are free to take her to different places such as retail stores or restaurants and stay indoors.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs: Psychiatric service dogs are seen as a specific kind of service dog that you can get only if a mental health provider receives a mental illness diagnosis. They are well-trained to assist those suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. These types of dogs can perform tasks you are unable to perform at a particular point in time. They can help bring your medicine during an attack, lead someone to help you, and help you calm sometimes. Psychiatric service dogs are highly sensitive to changes that you may experience in your body, especially when you're about to experience a panic attack. They can also help you out if you're claustrophobic.
  • Emotional Support Dogs: Emotional support dogs are canines that can help you stay calm and relax. Unlike service dogs, they don't need specific training before they can perform their tasks effectively. Emotional support dogs are not meant to provide physical assistance with your daily actions. They are seen as pets, which limit their freedom of being taken everywhere, like service dogs. Emotional support dogs help those with depression, anxiety, phobias, bipolar disorder, and panic attacks. You will need a letter from a mental health professional before you can be allowed to keep an emotional dog.
  • Therapy Dogs: Therapy dogs are usually used interchangeably with service dogs. It's important to know that they are very different with respect to their roles. A therapy dog is allowed to go around with you to volunteer in places such as nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. Therapy dogs can be a great comforter to those suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. They help relieve seniors of their feelings of loneliness.

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What Are The Best Breeds Of Service Dogs For Depression?

Are you in search of the best dog breeds that can help fight depression? The following are dogs that can greatly help if included in your treatment plan:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Poodle
  • Golden Retriever
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Viszla
  • Many breeds of dogs included mixed breeds are trained as service animals and perform their duties exceptionally as well as being friends and companions.

What Are The Criteria In Getting Service Dog For Depression?

Before you can be qualified to get a service dog, there are criteria you are expected to meet.  These criteria are given by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One of these criteria is that you must have a mental or physical disability affecting your everyday life. Also, this disability must have a documented history and assessed by a mental health professional who will confirm that you are suffering from an impairment that meets ADA's definition.

Moreover, for you to be qualified to get a service dog, you are expected to have the capacity to participate in the dog’s training, be able to independently control the dog, and take proper care of her with respect to finance maintenance and veterinary care for the life of the dog.

What Are The Benefits Of Service Dogs For Depression?

There are different benefits service dogs for depression can offer their owners. They trained to perform specific tasks, including providing help during a crisis, assisting in dealing with emotional overload, or supporting you with your treatment. Depression can be overwhelming and can seriously affect different areas of your life. Some of the depressive symptoms you may see include the loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, feelings of isolation, and getting out of bed issues. The following are the benefits you can get if you have a service dog for depression:

  • Service Dogs Help You Overcome Loneliness: Feeling lonely is one of the common symptoms that you may experience during an episode of depression. Generally, dogs are described as “man’s best friend"— some of them are affectionate and can offer unconditional friendship and love. If you have a service dog, you will definitely be accountable to walk her— this can help you leave your shell and meet people outdoors, which can make you feel less isolated.
  • Service Dogs Can Help You Get Healthy Exercise: Exercising is an effective treatment for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. You need to regularly take your dog for exercise. As you are doing this for her, you're also helping yourself. A 20-30minute daily exercise is okay for someone suffering from depression; your dog can make you get this every day. Exercise helps increase neurotransmitters' levels such as serotonin, endorphins dopamine, and norepinephrine, which generally improves your mental health by enhancing your mood. Also, staying outside can offer you vitamin D through the sunny weather.

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  • Service Dogs Help Reduce Stress: From different studies, stress can contribute to depression. Service dogs can greatly be of help in this aspect. They are trained to create a sense of confidence and calm. Having a service dog around, you can make you generally happier. This is because of the time-to-time interaction you have with her can increase oxytocin levels in you and your dog. Being a loyal companion, it is observed that a service dog can help reduce stress even better than a friend.

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Service Dogs Can Offer You A Sense Of Purpose: Depression is characterized by feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, and helplessness. A service dog can help you overcome these depressive symptoms. When you feel "blue," your dog will be there for you to give you a sense of purpose and the reason you need to be on your feet and do what is needed to be done. Having a dog around will make you feel responsible— you need to feed and walk your dog. Also, she can help you build your self-esteem, which is healthy for your mental health.

If you are feeling the signs or symptoms of depression, take this online test to take the first steps toward treatment and recovery.