Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a disorder that has found its way into the mainstream media quite a bit recently. While we hear about soldiers returning from war with PTSD the most, PTSD can affect anyone who’s undergone a traumatic event, such as rape, a severe car accident, abuse or neglect.
Today, June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day. Symptoms of PTSD range from anxiety to all-out panic attacks, clinical depression, dissociation, flashbacks, inability to function socially, impaired sleep, stressful hypervigilance, weight gain or loss and the feeling that one always has to “watch their back.” The stresses brought on by PTSD also manifest themselves in potentially lethal physical conditions, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure and stroke. Survivors of traumatic events often cite the feeling of “walking around in a movie,” or feeling completely detached from the life around them.
“My Service Dog has given me freedom and independence that no amount of medication or therapy could have done. Quite simply, my Service Dog has given me my life back.”
PTSD treatment often begins by treating the clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia. However, medication isn’t the only answer, and researchers fighting in the front lines of PTSD treatment cite dietary changes, increased exercise and therapy as viable solutions, as well. More and more frequently, psychiatrists and psychologists are pushing veterans and other survivors towards Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) to help get sufferers back on their feet and functioning in a way that’s unprecedented.
Psychiatric Service Dogs: Trained to Help
A Psychiatric Service Dog provides support to individuals suffering from PTSD. They not only offer a calming presence and anxiety relief, but they also are rigorously trained to assist with day-to-day tasks — such as picking up dropped objects, watching their handler’s back, bringing medication to their handler, retrieving a drink to take meds with, turning lights on and off, or helping a handler maintain balance. Other common PSD tasks include helping to wake the handler from a deep sleep, interrupting nightmares or flashbacks, and checking the house upon entry to be sure it’s free from intruders.
Reducing Healthcare Costs, Prescription Medication, Paid Assistance and More
In public, a Psychiatric Service Dog can provide the security and support necessary to get a handler back out into real life. The Service Dog may keep strangers from encroaching on the handler’s physical space, help lead the handler to fresh air if he or she gets overstimulated and can offer deep pressure stimulation to soothe building anxiety in a quiet, subtle way. They’ve also been proven to reducing healthcare costs, need for prescription medication and paid assistance — allowing them to be integrated back into society.
Service dogs could provide substantial psychological benefits for people with ambulatory disabilities as well as reduce health care costs. Researchers evaluated the economic and psychological impact of providing a service dog to 48 people who had been in a wheelchair for at least two years. Half got their dog almost immediately and the other half (the control group) had to wait one year. Within six months of receiving a dog, the participants experienced greater self esteem, became
more active in their communities and needed less assistance from other humans. At 12 months, the need for paid assistance dropped 68% and the need for unpaid assistance from friends and family members dropped 64%. Some of the participants were able to work part-time or attend school. Despite the high cost to train the dogs, service dogs could save their owners thousands of dollars a year in paid human assistance costs.The value of service dogs for people with severe ambulatory disabilities: a randomized controlled trial – Allen, K., and J. Blascovich, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
PTSD is an Invisible Disability
You may know someone dealing with PTSD. Because PTSD is an “invisible illness” you may not even know they have it, and it can be difficult to know what that person is truly going through. Unfortunately, the set of symptoms accompanying PTSD (depression, anxiety, social withdraw, paranoia, hypervigilance, insomnia) make sufferers high-risk for suicide. An estimated 22 veterans commit suicides daily (Suicide Data Report, 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services Suicide Prevention Program). However, these numbers are based on very limited data and the actual numbers could be much greater.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask someone how they’re doing. A simple smile or an “I’m here if you want to talk,” can make all the difference in the world. If you’re afraid someone is in danger of hurting themselves or another person, arrange to stay with them or have someone else stay with them until 911 can arrive to help.
If you’re interested in being paired with a canine partner, please be aware that training is difficult — but the process itself may be therapeutic. Many dogs wash out of the process, and your dog may not be suitable. Contact a professional trainer or organization that provides fully-trained PSDs.
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