Depression Treatment How Psychiatric Service Dogs Can Help With Depression By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC Facebook Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. Learn about our editorial process Published on June 23, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Sally Anscombe / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Depression Is a Disability What PSDs Do PSDs and Therapeutic Dogs How to Obtain a PSD When you think of a service animal, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably a dog trained to perform the physical tasks that a person with a disability cannot. However, the scope of service animals has broadened in recent years, and they are available for people with invisible disabilities now just as they are for those with physical ailments. A diagnosis of depression is one reason that a person might benefit from a service animal. A psychiatric service dog, also known by the acronym PSD, is a service dog who has been specifically trained to handle tasks that a person with a psychiatric disability may require for their health and well-being. Ahead, we'll look at how a PSD can help someone with depression, how to know if you qualify for one, and what steps to take so you can go about obtaining one for yourself if you do. Understanding Depression As a Disability It's natural for anyone to feel depressed occasionally. However, that's different than a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Where feeling depressed, sad, or hopeless on occasion is a common occurrence, especially after an upsetting or traumatic life event, a major depressive disorder is more severe, persistent, and potentially disabling. Illnesses may be obvious to the naked eye, or they can be completely invisible. Sometimes a person with depression might look unwell, and other times they may appear to be perfectly fine and healthy. It's important to remember that we do not exist inside anyone else's mind but our own, so we don't get to judge whether or not someone else is really sick. A diagnosis of depression may be sufficient to obtain Disability Benefits, and it is a real disability. As such, a service animal can be helpful. The Role of a Psychiatric Service Dog If you've ever noticed that the act of being physically close to a dog is a cheery one, you're not alone. Touching and petting animals are great for our mental health, and it can be an uplifting experience that brings us joy and helps us feel loved and needed. It has long been known that elderly people in care facilities who interact with animals experience relief from their depression and other psychiatric challenges. Interaction with a PSD may be as simple as using the dog for touch and petting, but psychiatric service dogs perform other functions in addition to that: They can keep their owners safe from strangers and protect them from human interaction if neededThey can also provide assistance in taking medicationPSDs can bring you a phone if you are in crisis and need to speak to a professionalA PSD can be trained to call 911 on your behalf in an emergencyThey can nudge you back to awareness with touch if you are experiencing certain symptoms How Does a Psychiatric Service Dog Differ From Other Therapeutic Dogs? When considering a PSD, it's important to be clear about what the animal can do, how it's certified, and where it has access. There is often confusion around the different types of therapeutic animals, so let's break down the jobs of each, as well as where they have legal access to. Service Dogs Service dogs are professionally trained animals. The ADA specifies that dogs are the only animals that can be certified as service animals. An owner of a service dog has the right to bring their dog into public settings where pets aren't allowed, and into homes that don't allow pets to live there. They are also allowed to be on the job with their handler, attend school with them, and travel with them on any form of transit, from buses to airplanes. To qualify for one, a person must have an appropriate diagnosis and clear need. Emotional Support Animals Emotional support animals, also known as comfort animals, are not trained animals. They don't need to be dogs; ESAs can be cats, rabbits, ferrets, or even peacocks or pigs. An emotional support animal is prescribed by a licensed therapist, and a letter of recommendation enables you to live in a home that does not allow pets. While ESAs used to be allowed on all planes, that is no longer the required law, and individual airlines each have different rules. An ESA cannot be in other public settings, such as restaurants, where pets aren't allowed. Therapy Animals As the name implies, therapy animals are used for therapeutic purposes, but unlike service dogs, their training is not certified by the ADA. Therapy animals are often dogs, and they're typically used only in therapeutic settings. That means that a therapy animal doesn't live with you, but instead is an animal you visit with. Therapy animals are not allowed in all public places where pets can't be. They're treated more similarly to ESAs than to service dogs and do not have federal ADA protection for being allowed in places pets are not. Steps to Take to Obtain a Psychiatric Service Dog for Your Depression If you are interested in a psychiatric service dog, the best place to start is by discerning whether or not you qualify for one. If you don't, you can still get an emotional support animal, which can prove helpful for you in a home setting, or you can utilize a therapy animal in a therapeutic setting. To qualify for a PSD for depression, you'll first need a formal clinical diagnosis of depression. Additionally, your diagnosis will need to say clearly that your disability prevents you from being able to perform one or more major life activities. Once it is clear how your disability prevents you from being able to perform one or more major life activities, you'll need to figure out whether a PSD can perform those activities for you. If so, you're showing your need for a PSD; if not, you likely won't qualify for one, because the dog couldn't serve their intended purpose. After you have qualified for a PSD based on the ADA standards, you have the option of self-training a dog or obtaining one that has been trained in the tasks you need them to perform. You can partner with a professional dog trainer to ensure a dog is trained to do exactly what you need. The ADA does not require documentation for certifying a service dog, nor does it require the dog to wear a vest. However, individual places you go may have these requirements in order to allow your PSD in, so registering your dog is a wise choice. Every state has different laws around service dogs. Before going too far into the process, make sure you're following all the guidelines of the state in which you live. A Word From Verywell Depression is a serious condition, and there are many ways to treat it. You may feel disheartened if you wanted a service dog but do not qualify for one. Know that there are still many other depression treatments available to you, such as many forms of therapy, antidepressant medications, and/or acquiring an emotional support animal. 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. ADA requirements: Service animals. Kogan L, Blazina C. Clinician's Guide to Treating Companion Animal Issues: Addressing Human-Animal Interaction. London, United Kingdom: Academic Press/Elsevier; 2019. doi:10.1016/C2016-0-04244-4 Disability Benefits Help. Depression and social security disability. Ambrosi C, Zaiontz C, Peragine G, Sarchi S, Bona F. Randomized controlled study on the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy on depression, anxiety, and illness perception in institutionalized elderly. Psychogeriatrics. 2019;19(1):55-64. doi:10.1111/psyg.12367 International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Service dog tasks for psychiatric disabilities. Americans With Disabilities Act. Service animals and emotional support animals. UMass Chan Medical School. Emotional support animals: the basics. US Service Animals Blog. What disabilities qualify for a service dog?. ADA.gov. Frequently asked questions about service animals and the ADA. By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.