Diamond in the ruff

Staff Reporter - Melanie Schauer

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Anxiety and clinical depression are two very common disorders that many people may encounter during their life. According to the Child Mind Institute, “Nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18,” several who are not receiving treatment. Untreated, many are at a high-risk of performing poorly in school, missing out on organizations, school events, and in some cases, engaging in substance abuse.

The alarming percentages found in young adults have significantly increased in the past decade. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA took a survey among the incoming college freshmen. The undergraduates reported on their “overwhelming anxiety” and the stress of the previous school semesters. In 1985, the numbers were at 18 percent of students seeking counseling services. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent and last year, it surged to 41 percent. This sudden spike in anxiety should not go unnoticed.

While many students rely on medications, all across the country schools are bringing in therapy dogs as a more natural way to reduce stress. Many educators are now resorting to these “gentle giants” to seek more natural benefits to reduce the amount of medication patients receive and to help those who may not have access to counseling services. In fact, Dr. P. B. Rokade, a biologist and environmental scientist, states that “Anxiety is a disease which is widely spread and can be treated with endorphins without using any medication or tablets, only the thing is that we must know how and when endorphin is released. It is in our hands to release endorphin where and when we need.”

Dogs are miracle workers, more often than not, a student with rage is going to calm down when in the presence of a dog rather than acting out aggressively. If more schools partnered with nonprofit organizations that offered natural and legitimate treatment, I believe that over time, the numbers would decrease significantly in those ages 13-19.

Mrs. Grey, an animal science teacher at Caddo Mills High School, gave her insight on what it’s really like to have animals present in her classroom.

“I think it leads to a calmer environment allowing the students to feel less stress when walking in the room. They are also an incentive for getting work done, when they have completed all work for the day they often play with the dogs. The students also hold the animals during class and help destress.” Grey believes that it’s a great way to improve students’ work ethics and that resorting to therapy dogs is a great way to relieve anxiety in students. “Why medicate when there are other solutions?! All animals, especially dogs, have a calming effect in most people of all ages!”

Of course, these furry friends benefit more than those who are diagnosed with anxiety or depression. They are very useful to those with special needs, students who have test anxiety, trauma and people who simply just need a confidence boost. Partnering with these organizations and bringing therapy dogs to the school environment can bring some unique challenges but, whether it’s scheduled daily or monthly, the benefits of promoting positive mental health will shine through.

To help counselors across the country participate or create similar programs, sponsors of schooltherapydogs.org along with the School Therapy Dogs Facebook group, created a checklist of things to consider including: gaining support from administration, addressing pet allergies, choosing and training the right dog and setting school-wide expectations.

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Diamond in the ruff