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Companion Pets for Mental Illness

For many years, service dogs were known to assist those with physical impairments. However, animals can play a therapeutic role for people with disabling mental illnesses. These mental illnesses--including depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder--can cause reclusiveness and difficulties making friends, which results in feelings of isolation and depression. Fortunately, pets can provide companionship to those who have trouble establishing relationships.

According to a May 2013 article in Clinical Psychiatry News, researchers found that "pets provide outlets for empathy, connection, self-efficacy, and support for adults with serious mental illness." They continue on, saying, "[Participants in these studies] who owned pets were found to have a greater avoidance of isolating behaviors by providing a social outlet that helped them to connect with others."

It's important to note that there are two different forms of companion animals. The first type of emotional support animal is a psychiatric service dog. These dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks. According to the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, dogs can be trained to help a wide range mental illness symptoms including fear, disorganization, sleep disturbance, anxiety and more. For each symptom, a psychiatric service dog is trained a task which assists their handler.

A second type of emotional support animal is a companion pet. Similar to a psychiatric service dog, a person with a mental illness needs the approval of doctor before they may get a companion pet. These pets may be able to accompany their handler into housing that have no-pet rules on the lease. However, a companion dog does not have the right to enter public properties unless a state specifies otherwise.

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