A service dog is one that has been trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Examples include guiding a person who is blind or taking protective action when a person is having a seizure. Service dogs were once exclusively used by people with physical disabilities. They’re now also used by people with mental illnesses. Service dogs can help people with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dealing with depression and anxiety can be challenging, and finding ways to manage symptoms can be a struggle. If you're considering getting a service dog to help with your mental health, you may be wondering whether it's a good option for you. At realesaletter.com, we believe that service dogs can be an excellent choice for those dealing with depression and anxiety, as they can provide emotional support and perform specific tasks to help manage symptoms. Our team of professionals can help you determine whether a service dog is right for you and guide you through the process of obtaining a service dog.
To be recognized as a service dog under the Americans with a Disability Act (ADA), the tasks a dog has been trained for must be tied to a person’s disability. Dogs whose only function is to provide emotional support or comfort don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA.
A service dog for depression may also be referred to as a psychiatric service dog. This is not to be confused with an emotional support animal or therapy dogs, which are not recognized as service animals by the ADA.
Here are the key differences:
Psychiatric service dog
A psychiatric service dog is trained to recognize and respond to their handler’s disability by performing work or tasks. The handler must have a mental or psychiatric disability that limits one or more major life activities.
The ADA protects service animals and allows public access so that the dog can go anywhere its handler goes. A service dog is not considered a pet.
Emotional support animal
An ESA dog is a pet that provides comfort or emotional support to a person. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal doesn’t need to be trained to perform specific tasks.
The ADA doesn’t cover emotional support animals, so they do not have legal public access. They’re only covered under the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Act. This means that the only places that are legally required to permit an emotional support animal are housing units and aircraft and one needs a realesaletter for housing in order to have one.
Therapy dogs are trained to engage with many people other than the primary handler. These dogs are used to provide comfort and affection as a form of psychological or physiological therapy to people in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. They do not have the same legal public access or ESA Letter as service or emotional support dogs.
All three service animal types can benefit a person with depression. The kind that is best for you depends on your needs. Psychiatric service dogs are working animals and not considered pets. They’re extensively trained to perform specific tasks, such as reminding you to take your medication or leading you to someone if you’re in crisis.
An emotional support animal isn’t trained to perform any tasks, but can provide you with a therapeutic presence which can be comforting and uplifting.
How to qualify for a service dog
To qualify for a service dog for depression, you must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that your depression prevents you from performing at least one major life task without assistance on a daily basis. A licensed mental health professional can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or social worker.
You must also be able to:
- participate in the dog’s training
- finance maintenance and veterinary care for the life of the dog
- be able to command the dog independently
The cost of a service dog is not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, or by any private insurance company. Some nonprofit organizations offer service animals for free or at a reduced cost. Many of these programs have long waiting lists. You can also pay to train a dog as a psychiatric service dog.
Tasks and benefits service dogs provide
A psychiatric service dog can be trained to perform a wide range of tasks to help someone with depression. These include tasks related to assisting during a crisis, helping you cope with emotional overload, and providing treatment-related assistance.
The following are specific tasks that a service dog for depression can perform:
- remind you to take medication
- bring you a phone during a crisis so you can contact support
- call 911 or any other preprogrammed emergency number for help
- identify and help with medication side effects
- provide tactile support when you’re overwhelmed
- prevent emotional overload at home
- provide an excuse to leave a room if you feel upset with a discrete signal
What to do if you don’t qualify
If you don’t qualify for a service dog for depression, you can still consider an emotional support animal. These animals provide comfort and companionship, but they’re not eligible for the same protection as service dogs in public places.
Emotional support animals are allowed in all housing units and able to fly for free. Emotional support animals are usually dogs or cats, but can include other animals.
There are a number of other treatment options for depression available as well. A combination of medication and therapy is often successful in managing depression. There are also lifestyle changes and alternative treatments that can help you cope with depression.
Treatment options for depression include:
- cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
- interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
- relaxation techniques, such as yoga and massage therapy
- guided imagery
Next steps in getting a service dog
If you would like to adopt a service dog for depression, speak to a mental health professional. They can determine if you would benefit from having one.
To learn more about service dogs, such as training and costs, contact one of the many organizations that train and place psychiatric service dogs.
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