Whenever teenager Gracie Garrahy decides to brave the outside world, her best mate Sebastian is right beside her, she tells The Catholic Leader.
Sebastian is an assistance dog receiving training to support Ms Garrahy, an 18-year-old who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.
“Before I got him, I wouldn’t go out of the house, I wouldn’t interact with other people,” she said. “Mental illness was taking over my whole life.”
She describes her day-to-day life as “intense” where “your brain feels like you’re out of control”.
A former student at St Teresa’s Catholic College, Noosa, Ms Garrahy struggled with anxiety for most of her childhood, but her mental health worsened when she started high school.
“When I was younger I had lots of friends around me with mental health issues and I wanted to help them,” she said.
“It was me being caring and I just cared too much. It took a toll on me and I began to develop unhealthy friendships and things started to go downhill from there.”
Ms Garrahy found help at a local organisation but was admitted to the public health system when her mental illness was found to be more severe.
In 2015, she took a year off from school to deal with her anxiety. She finished school but was hospitalised for three months last year.
“They were running out of options for me and that’s where we had the idea of getting an assistance dog,” Ms Garrahy said.
In Australia, assistance dogs are trained to support people with a disability, including those with psychiatric problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.
They can learn to do more than 50 assistive tasks, and are protected under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009.
Ms Garrahy received Sebastian the day she was discharged from hospital in July last year with help from her parents, former members of Brisbane’s Emmanuel Community.
Sebastian is required to undergo 18 months of training with Ms Garrahy and specialists from the Australian Companion and Assistance Dogs, an organisation on the Sunshine Coast.
Last month Sebastian passed his first public access test inside a local shopping centre and is now a certified assistance dog.
While there is time before she makes a full recovery, Ms Garrahy said, with Sebastian, “it’s amazing how far I’ve come”.
Man’s best friend is Gracie Garrahy’s companion in battle against mental illness (The Catholic Leader)