AWARD WINNING video on how our friends at the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation are working with veterans who suffer with PTSD and their specially dogs.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the brain’s response to a very traumatic experience or experiences. Assistance dogs can help people cope with this disabling condition.
For those in the armed forces it PTSD often triggered by being in combat, for those in the emergency services it is often triggered by life-threatening experiences, such as being stuck in a burning building, being shot at, or having to deal with a terrifying road side accident or domestic and child abuse. Basically, they are situations where the person feels intense fear and/or helplessness.
Often PTSD is described as a “living hell” for the person suffering – it can affect everything. PTSD is a mental health condition where the brain changes and can manifest itself with various symptoms such as…
- flashbacks where the person, through for example a trigger, relives the trauma.
- feeling suicidal,
- uncontrollable thoughts and feelings,
- panic attacks and anxiety,
- feeling worthless,
- feeling intense feelings of guilt,
- being hyper-vigilant
People who have been diagnosed with PTSD often feel very isolated, depressed and can struggle at times with daily life and relationships – the world, it feels, is moving on without them without being able to do anything about it.
In the past PTSD was referred to as combat fatigue, shell shock and was mostly associated with those in the Armed Forces. In more recent years people have come to realise that those serving on the “front line” at home; in the police, ambulance and fire services are also at increased risk of developing PTSD through what they face almost on a daily basis.
Whilst there are some services helping those who have served in the Armed Forces, there still isn’t enough and for those in the emergency services it seems that in the UK there is almost no provision and recognition is only slowly gaining ground – we desperately want to change this. As with many mental health conditions there is a stigma attached to PTSD, even more so in the groups we are aiming to help.
How PTSD Assistance Dogs help
Dogs are able to draw out even the most isolated people and through engaging with a dog veterans are able to overcome emotional numbness (a symptom of PTSD), through training a dog, veterans develop new ways to communicate without anger or paranoia.
Having a dog also means there is a need for a routine which helps greatly; you need to go out and exercise for example, again physical exercise helps with battling some of the PTSD symptoms.
Our veterans feel strongly that their Assistance Dogs have given them…
- A sense of purpose & independence again
- The ability to “feel” and live again
- A sense of pride and achievement (upon completion of the programme in particular)
- An ability to go out, not lock themselves away, to re-engage with the community
- Incredible friendship
- To feel happy and relaxed again..
A trained assistance dog will also be able to perform specific tasks that will make life easier for the veteran such as…
- waking them from a nightmare thereby improving sleep,
- responding to medication reminders,
- getting someone back to the present when they suffer with dissociation,
- offering behaviours to counter panic, flashbacks and anxiety attacks.
Importance of Oxytocin
By bonding with a dog emotionally veterans feel more able to be out in the world, to engage, as they can focus on the dog and through research we know this bond can release “happy chemicals” in the brain; oxytocin. Oxytocin, also often called the social or trust hormone, is so important that it’s also being researched as a treatment on its own for a variety of mental health issues. This hormone allows us to be able to trust, engage with people around us – so for people with PTSD who struggle with exactly that the bonding comes with real benefits.
“Oxytocin improves trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects—the opposite of PTSD symptoms”
Meg Daley Olmert, Warrior Canine Connection, a similar programme in the US.
Having a trained and certified Assistance Dog means the owner will have access to restaurants, shops, hotels and other public buildings as well as on public transport including in taxis as regulated by Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Links of interest
video: How PTSD affects the Police Force (graphic)