Mental illness affects a significant percentage of the population in the United States, but not everyone is a suitable candidate for support options such as a psychiatric service dog. For those who do qualify, however, a service dog can provide its owner with a sense of independence in daily life as well as provide companionship in tough situations. Although the training process for a psychiatric service dog is extensive, adding an animal to the U.S. Service Dog Registry is not difficult. Here are some of the helpful tasks that psychiatric support dogs can perform and details on how to register a service dog.

1) During a Medical Crisis

The symptoms of a mental episode can manifest themselves in many ways, from nausea to paralyzing anxiety to an inability to speak. Therefore, a service dog can provide assistance in many different ways. A dog can bring medication if their owner cannot move, no matter where the medication is stored. The service animal also can be trained to fetch a beverage for its partner to swallow the pills. The dog can answer the door or dial 911 in an emergency as well.

2) In Daily Tasks

The most well-recognized function of an assistance animal among the general public is its service on a daily basis. For psychiatric service animals, this may mean providing stable support for a dizzy or panicked partner in public or help them off the ground after a fall. Service animals may make sure their partners take medication on time, wake them in response to sounds such as a smoke alarm and even bring them water if they are suffering from an extremely dry mouth.

3) Dealing with Emotional Duress

Often, people with mental conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder get overwhelmed or fearful when out in public or even at home. This is another area where a psychiatric service dog can assist. By barking or taking other actions, the dog can “break the spell” for a paralyzed or panicked partner. The animal can turn on lights if the dark is threatening or help its owner find an exit if escape is needed. A service dog can even be trained to recognize anxiety and “bother” its partner, providing an excuse for the owner to leave the stressful situation.

4) Recognizing Hallucinations

Sometimes people with mental disorders hallucinate that there are people in the room who are not there. An owner who is not certain whether the person is real can command the dog to greet the person, and if the dog returns immediately, the owner knows there is not really another human there.

5) Security Actions

People with PTSD or similar conditions may worry that someone has entered their home while they were away. He or she can command a service dog to enter the home, conduct a thorough search and then return to the owner, confirming there is no intruder.

6) Redirection

When panic hits or obsessive-compulsive behavior is getting out of control, a trained psychiatric dog can interrupt its owner and redirect his or her attention from the distressing behavior and onto a new task, such as brushing or walking the dog.

7) Clearing an Airway

Sometimes a reaction to medication or a panic attack will induce vomiting in people with mental disorders. If the owner is faint or has lost consciousness, a trained service dog will clear his or her airway to prevent choking and bring a water bottle to combat dehydration.

It only takes a few moments to add an animal to the national service dog register. Although some online resources offer to do it for a fee, there is no need to pay for the service. Registering a psychiatric service dog is free and should be done for each animal trained to perform the many tasks listed above.