Depression is a thief that robs people of happiness, motivation, self-worth, hope, energy, peace of mind, restful sleep and even the will to live. Depression is the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 15 to 44 in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Those who are disabled due to severe depression may receive emotional assistance and practical help from man's best friend -- a dog.
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Psychiatric Service Dogs
A psychiatric service dog falls under the classification of a medical response dog and may meet the requirements of a "service dog" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This type of dog is trained to complete specific tasks to assist people who suffer with various psychiatric conditions, including depression. The dog may interrupt the owner when it is time to take medication, bring medication and a beverage to the owner during a wave of extreme symptoms, call 911 on a special phone in an emergency and provide physical support when the owner is experiencing medication side effects. Additionally, psychiatric service dogs can help their owners deal with emotional overload and fear.
Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs may not be trained to perform tasks like bringing medication to a patient, but are just as important in assisting their owners to lead independent lives. These dogs help reduce depression symptoms and provide a calming effect. Their presence may be nurturing, therapeutic and supportive. These dogs do not fall under the legal definition of a service dog. Even so, the law does provide some allowances for emotional support animals. They may be allowed in "no pet" housing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Amendments or the Rehabilitation Act.
Dogs as Pets
Not all dogs for people with depression are service dogs or emotional support dogs; some are beloved pets. These dogs provide unconditional love and companionship. They may help a person with depression see purpose and meaning in life. Additionally, pets may help their owners re-establish trust, empathy and independence. People engaged in the regular activities of caring for a pet, such as feeding, walking and bathing, reported increased levels of perceived happiness and well-being, according to a 2003 study conducted at Clemson University.
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- International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: Service Dog Tasks for Panic Disorder, PTSD and Depression
- Clemson University: The Effects of Regular Interaction with Pets and General Happiness
- Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: Right to Emotional Support Animals in "No Pet" Housing
- New Hampshire Governor's Commission on Disability: Service/Assistance Animals
- National Institute of Mental Health: The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America
- National Institute of Mental Health: What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?