'My dog helps me manage my schizophrenia and gives me the confidence to leave the house'

ITV News reporter Chlöe Oliver has been speaking to Jerrika Stevenson, who lives with schizophrenia, about the Labradoodle that changed her life.

Jerrika Stevenson was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 16, she never dreamt help would come in the form of a Labradoodle.

When Jerrika was on a skiing trip as a child, she asked her friend what she did about the voices in her head. Her friend told her she didn't hear voices and, it was in that moment, that she realised she was living a different reality from her friends.

“It is extremely scary at times. I'm always voice hearing and hallucinations. I live in delusion and I have paranoia and it’s very isolating", Jerrika told ITV News.

After struggling to find the help she needed, Jerrika stumbled across the idea of a psychiatric assistance dog. Unlike a guide dog or hearing dog, these dogs are trained especially to help people living with mental illnesses.

They are taught to carry out certain acts to identify hallucinations, ground their owners back in reality by nudging them, preventing self harm by lightly scratching their owners, and reminding them to take their medication.

  • Jerrika says her dog Bokki is a physical manifestation of her illness and gives her support unlike anyone else could

David and Julie Wassell from Nuneaton founded a charity to provide dog training to adults, with mental health conditions, or on the autistic spectrum, who have their own dog and tailor their training to their individual needs either in their home or safe location.

They hope to replicate the success of Guide Dogs and provide support to people living with mental disorders - training dogs for them or helping them adapt their own dog to carry out crucial tasks.

Researchers from global journal 'Frontiers in Veterinary Science' surveyed 600 people with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Research found 94% of those with a trained assistance dog had reduced anxiety
Research found 71% were regularly nudged by their dogs back to reality from dissociations or hallucinations
Out of those questioned, 51% said their pet’s sense of negative behaviour prevented situations from spiralling

Those Positive changes are recognised too by charity Pets as Therapy who say dogs can improve confidence and reduce isolation.

It is often said that dogs are a man’s best friend, but in Jerrika’s case it goes deeper than that.

Bokki is not only her best friend, he’s her lifeline to help her face the world.