Teen Advocates

Breaking through the stigma of mental illness with psychiatric service dogs and well educated, teen mental health advocates.

TESSD has had great success piloting the Teen Advocate Program in Newtown, CT and would love to establish it throughout Connecticut; bringing together school communities and teens that have been affected or show an interest in brain health, recovery, and psychiatric service dogs. This natural connection helps to open up the conversation of mental health and get students talking to their peers about how they are feeling inside; breaking the stigma associated with some of those feelings that are often kept quiet. Research has shown that peer support has numerous benefits from simply feeling a connection with someone to decreased hospitalization. A conversation that is reciprocal allows the peers to open up knowing that they are not alone in their struggles, helping on both sides of the conversation. Our teen advocates provide an empathetic, safe place to talk making students comfortable by easing in to the conversation with the duties of a psychiatric service dog.

Working together with Mental Health America and Teen Talk, TESSD created a comprehensive curriculum that brings together a group of students identified by your school counselor that have a desire to talk openly about inside struggles. TESSD Teen Advocate Program is a six week, after school program, comprised of Mental Health Peer Advocate Training and Psychiatric Service Dog Training. The curriculum includes weekly assignments that cover the major mental illnesses that the students are most likely to encounter in their community. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, eating disorders, and recovery are some of the topics that will be touched upon. Through each conversation, the goal is to teach the teens that all of these illnesses or disabilities feel differently to everyone, that each person’s struggle is their own. 

Teens learn how to use effective listening skills to support their peers, as well as when and how to help a peer access professional help if needed. We teach the students tools to lend a compassionate, trustworthy ear and even further the conversation with their own experiences. The program also teaches healthy self-care practices that can help manage everyday stress. Once completed it allows the students to walk the halls with our dogs and offer peer to peer support. Not only do students open up about their stresses, but also get comfort from petting the dog.

In School Service Dogs

The Exceptional Sidekick Service Dogs (TESSD) in Newtown, CT encourages both public and private schools, that have a strong desire to support their students’ mental health, to implement our In-school Service Dog & Teen Advocate Program. TESSD is one of the only organizations to provide exceptional psychiatric service dogs to teens and young adults with disabilities such as PTSD, Severe Depression, or Severe Anxiety Disorders. We have an unwavering commitment to making sure that students living with a mental illness are able to get service dogs. They should not have a limited education because of a disability that can be mitigated, helping them return to school, improving attendance, and attend college as part of their future plan; all resulting in the ability to live independently.

How does TESSD and our school community work together to reach this goal? Teachers volunteer to be puppy raisers and take the Service Dog in Training (SDiT) to school every day and home each night. They also attend weekly training at TESSD, as well as bring them to after school activities with their families. The SDiT goes everywhere their raisers go and with that they become amazing animals that will be placed with someone truly in need. These exceptional puppies also get to serve their community and help break the stigma of mental illness with our Teen Advocates, an amazing group of students that have committed to learning about mental health concerns affecting their peers.