Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a pervasive disorder among both current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members. Studies have shown current psychological and pharmacological treatments for PTSD are suboptimal in veterans, with high dropout rates and poor adherence to treatment protocols. Therefore, evaluating complementary interventions, such as assistance dogs, is needed for veterans who may not receive the ultimate benefit from traditional therapies. The present longitudinal mixed-method study examined the effectiveness of Operation K9 assistance dogs among sixteen veterans with PTSD, specifically, their effects on suicidality, PTSD, depression, and anxiety from baseline to 12 months post-matching. Self-reported measures were completed prior to receiving their dog (baseline) and at three time points (3, 6, and 12 months) following matching. The Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 was used to assess the severity of every PTSD case. Veterans participated in a semi-structured interview 3 months post-matching. Whilst there was a reduction in the proportion of veterans reporting any suicidality, there was no significant change in the probability of veterans reporting suicidality between time points. There was a significant effect of time on PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Three major themes emerged from qualitative data analysis: life changer, constant companion, and social engagement. Qualitative data suggest assistance dogs can have a positive impact on important areas of daily life and support veterans in achieving some of the prerequisites for health, including access to services, transport, education, employment, and development of new and diverse social and community connections. Connections were key in improving health and wellbeing. This study exemplifies the power of human-animal relationships and adds emphasis to the need to take these seriously and create supportive healthy environments for veterans with PTSD. Our findings could be used to inform public health policy and service delivery, in line with the Ottawa Charter action areas and indicate that for veterans with PTSD, assistance dogs may be a feasible adjunct intervention.
Melissa Sherman (University of South Australia), Dr Amanda Hutchinson (University of South Australia), Dr Henry Bowen (Military and Emergency Services Health Australia MESHA), Marie Iannos (Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA)), Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff (Military and Emergency Services and Health Australia (MESHA))
Expected Completion Date
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
PTSD; anxiety; assistance dog; depression; suicidality; veteran