What is PTSD and how can a service dog help?
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur following the experience of any severe physical or emotional traumatic event. Some of the more common events that can cause PTSD are:
- Combat exposure
- Terrorist attack
- Serious accidents
- Child sexual or physical abuse
- Sexual or physical assault
- Natural disasters or fires
What causes PTSD to occur?
There are several different theories about what causes PTSD. Although two individuals can experience the same traumatic event, it is possible that only one with develop PTSD. Some of the explanations given by experts are:
- Past traumatic experiences
- Development of coping skills
- Childhood influences
- Psychological makeup
- Prior mental health issues
- Personality type
- Brain chemistry
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
- Flashbacks or reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
- Nightmares and interrupted sleep patterns
- Avoidance of like situations or situations that provoke symptoms
- Refusal to talk about the events
- Negative changes in beliefs and self-doubt
- Experiencing strong negative feelings such as fear, guilt or shame
- Disinterest in daily activities or activities that were enjoyed in the past
- Hyper vigilance such as constantly looking for danger or feeling unsafe
- Severe generalized and situational anxiety
- Onset of other mental health disorders
How common is PTSD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD symptoms are commonly unreported. The Institute estimates that only about 50% of PTSD sufferers will seek treatment for their symptoms. As a result, the statistical data on PTSD is hugely underestimated. The current data of reported cases is as follows:
- 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
- Approximately 30% of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD.
- According to the US Veterans Administration, there were approximately 266,000 wartime veterans residing in the state of Minnesota.
- Approximately 30% (or roughly 80,000) of these Minnesota veterans are currently afflicted with PTSD
- It is estimated that there are 1302 Minnesota law enforcement officers and 744 firefighters currently living with PTSD in our state.
Although veterans and emergency services personnel are the most common sufferers of PTSD, it is important to note that anyone can develop the disorder including the elderly and children.
How can a service dog help with PTSD?
In a 2009 survey distributed by the US military, 82% of PTSD sufferers reported a reduction of symptoms after being partnered with a psychiatric service dog. There was also a reported 40% reduction in medications used by individuals to alleviate symptoms.
Service dogs are specifically trained to assist an individual with PTSD symptoms in the following ways:
- Waken from nightmares and turn on a light if necessary
- Reduce startle reactions by providing a personal space perimeter
- Alert during dissociative episodes and flashbacks
- Prevent isolation by providing symptom reduction in public
- Search home to promote feeling of safety
- Round a corner first and alert to unknown persons
- Help to allow for a consistent ability to maintain employment
- Alert to reduce emotional escalation
- Provide environmental threat assessment to assist with hyper-vigilance
- Perform deep pressure massage to reduce anxiety
US Veterans Administration
National Institute of Mental Health
The Use of Psychiatric Service Dogs in the Treatment of Veterans with PTSD, Craig Love Ph.D., US Army Medical Research and Material Command, October 2009