Did you know that June is PTSD Awareness Month? According to Mayo Clinic, post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can result after an individual experiences a terrifying event. Flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety can all be symptoms. It’s estimated that 12 million American adults will experience PTSD every year. What does this have to do with animals?
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), particularly the use of therapeutic dogs, has gained popularity over the last few decades. Today, it is widely recognized that animal companionship can positively impact social/emotional and physical health. It has become commonplace to see trained therapy dogs in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers, and schools. Those who particularly benefit from AAT include the ill, elderly, children, veterans, and those suffering from PTSD.
According to the website of Therapy Dogs International, “A body of research suggests that interactions with therapy dogs can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain that increase feelings of bonding and reward, and decrease stress. Dogs have the ability to help calm and soothe agitated individuals while lifting the spirits of those who are sad and lonely. They provide a medium for physical touch and display affection for those who feel most alone. Therapy dogs elicit responses from some nursing home patients who are typically withdrawn and limited in their abilities. Stroking a dog leads to more movement from the patient and consequently, increased physical activity.”
The Pets for Vets website lists the many benefits of AAT including lowered heart rate and blood pressure, decreased anxiety, improved relaxation, emotionalconnection, and reality orientation. It brightens mood, provides a healthy outlet for positive touch, serves as a diversion when pain or discomfort is present, fosters nurturing and play and provides emotional support to family members and staff. Therapy dogs can also assist and motivate patients in specific, goal-oriented activities such as walking down the hall as part of a physical therapy routine.
So what can you do this month for PTSD awareness? Whether you’re dealing with it yourself, know someone who is, or just want to help, you can visit the National Center for PTSD to find out more about PTSD and what you can do!
Additionally, you can check out Project Canine, a Seattle-based non-profit dedicated to AAT training and certification. On the Project Canine website, you can learn more about becoming a certified therapy dog team so you can help others!