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Cody Green began experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations as well as paranoia and confusion around his freshman year of college. The symptoms led him to drug addiction, which eventually landed him in prison. At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia: a brain disease that affects people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Although medication and other treatments helped control some of Green’s symptoms, his nightmares persisted. Little did he know that four years later, a different kind of help would give him the confidence to live the successful and fully functioning life he knew he had and that so many other people with schizophrenia deserve it – this time with four paws and a. Tail.

Luna, a Jack Russell terrier mix, helps Green identify his visual hallucinations; If there’s a “hello” and Luna doesn’t respond, he knows there’s nothing to see. She also protects Green from harming herself during auditory hallucinations. Luna jumps on his lap and rests her head on his, preventing Green from punching him in the face and bringing him back to the present.

“My husband and I took a chance with Luna because there’s no guarantee a dog will learn some of these things, but she was great,” Green, 29, told USA TODAY. “People with schizophrenia lose a lot of freedom because of our illness. But Luna has helped me become more confident and comfortable in my everyday life.

Psychiatric service dogs can be game changers for people with schizophrenia.

Dogs have been helping. People of different ages have different disabilities For centuries, promoting independence, a sense of security, peace of mind and self-confidence. Research has proven that they are service dogsPsychiatry, in particular, can help in many ways, such as reducing suicide attempts and improving the ability to attend medical appointments.

Dr. Xiaoduo FanIn general, dogs can provide the social interaction that some people with the disorder need, said Umas Chan, a psychiatrist and professor at the Umas Chan School of Medicine who studies schizophrenia. This concept is based on “”.Biophilia hypothesis” which states that humans are intrinsically drawn to other living things for a sense of security and connection.

“People with schizophrenia have difficulty connecting with people, which affects their social interactions,” Phan said. “Humans are social animals with a need for love, companionship and acceptance, and schizophrenic patients are no different. Having an animal around can satisfy those needs through nonverbal communication.”

Malene Kalsnes Tysedal, a psychiatry doctor at the University of Bergen in Norway, who has studied contact with dogs may be less stressful than contact with other people. Dogs help adults with schizophrenia.

While useful as service dogs, some people with schizophrenia “can’t take care of the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of an animal,” Tysedahl said.

That could include injuries to a dog, Fan said, calling it a “possible but very rare scenario” given that people with schizophrenia are no more aggressive than the general population. “This is a very common misconception from the public,” Phan said.

Lack of access to psychiatric service dogs

Green didn’t intend to train Luna to help him better deal with his symptoms, but to use her as a social media presence. Schizophrenia advocate It skyrocketed, which put him in touch with several certified dog trainers who taught Green how to train Luna to be a psychiatric therapy dog ​​via FaceTime.

Training Luna itself was a more accessible option than buying a pre-trained dog or professionally training Luna. The options were expensive, plus the Greens live in rural Wisconsin where there aren’t many serviceable dog trainers — a reality many disabled people face when seeking help to supplement their other treatments.

“We really couldn’t afford anything else, so it was amazing to get that help with the training,” Green said. “It was just a lot of luck. None of this would have happened if I didn’t have social media.

Psychiatric services can train dogs. Price is between $20,000 and $30,000. on average. Medicare and Medicaid do not cover service dogs, and neither do most private insurances. The Veterans Affairs Administration and the Department of the Army only provide funding for dogs trained in A. Assistance Dogs International Or International Guide Dog Federation Accredited institution – Psychiatric dogs are not included.

Fortunately, Service dogs are not required to be certified. or complete a professional training program, so people have the right to train their own service animal, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although some airlines require owners to complete paperwork, businesses are not allowed to require documentation that a dog is registered, licensed or certified as a service animal.

Training your own dog is more of a bonding experience anyway, says Julie Morissette, a training consultant at Service Dog Training School International, which offers online courses to owners for about $300.

But finding opportunities to train your own service dog can be confusing because the The US does not have a binding process. The selection, training and placement of service dogs differs from other countries that regulate the industry, according to a 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

That’s where Green hopes to step in. The goal is to work with service dog trainers to make these animals more accessible to people.

“People with mental illness have a hard time getting help, they’re in poverty, they’re struggling to get doctor’s appointments,” Green said. I always say I’m the luckiest schizophrenic because I had a lot of wealth and access to insurance and medication, but other advocates and I are all trying to make our resources more accessible to others.

One way to do this, he says, is to remove the stigma associated with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

Although Green served as a caregiver for his mother Schizoactive disorder — a chronic mental illness that causes symptoms similar to schizophrenia — was still unaware that something was wrong when he had his own psychotic break. When Green sought medical help three years later, the diagnosis “seemed like a death sentence” because schizophrenia images were often negative.

Research shows that people who feel their emotions Schizophrenia is stigmatizing. Worse depression, social anxiety and quality of life, as well as reduced self-esteem, social functioning and support from loved ones. Isolation leads to social isolation, fewer educational and employment opportunities and worse housing conditions.

“When I first got diagnosed, I just wanted to be the voice,” Green said. “I want to be the face of the disease, that way when someone hears the word schizophrenia they don’t think of a corny show or a tragedy, but a real person. And maybe with the right help you will realize that this is a diagnosis is not death sentence”