The Story From A Broken Mind
By Marcia Purse, About.com Guide
Can those with psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression benefit from interaction with animals? The answer is a resounding, “YES!” “There are an increasing number of dogs being trained to assist individuals with a range of disabilities, including seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and psychiatric disorders” (Sachs-Ericsson et al, 2002). Not only can those with bipolar disorder benefit from the love of and for a pet, but they are also permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act to employ the assistance of a service dog.
The Benefit of Animals
According to Dr. Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Patricia Gosner of the University of Southern Alabama, animals offer benefits to those with mental illnesses through a number of venues (Lipton, 2001):
The Law Relating to Service Dogs
It is important to note that to qualify for the protections and allowances of the Americans with Disabilities Act, both the individual and the canine, must meet specific criteria. In short, an individual must have a disability and a service dog must be specifically trained to meet the needs of that disability.
The Role of Service Dogs
Joan Froling, a trainer and consultant with Sterling Service Dogs, provides a detailed list of tasks for which service dogs are trained to assist those with psychiatric disabilities. A few of the overall tasks include
In summation, service dogs are of considerable benefit to those with psychiatric disabilities. As noted in their study reviewing the benefits of assistant dogs, Natalie Sachs-Ericsson et al write, “Through clinical observation, anecdotal reports, and retrospective and cross-sectional studies, preliminary support was found for the conclusion that ADs have a positive impact on individuals’ health, psychological well-being, social interactions, performance of activities, and participation in various life roles at home and in the community” (2002).
Department of Justice. (2002). A Guide to Disability Right Laws.
Department of Justice.(1996). Commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business.
Froling, J. (1998). Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities.