Everyone gets the blues from time to time – it’s a part of being human. When we do, we find things to do and people to be with that help us feel better and bring pleasure into our lives. If you suffer from a mental illness, getting to a good place can be a wee bit tougher. So who has emotional support animals and how do they help?
Emotional support animals, aka ESAs, are sometimes “prescribed” by health professionals as part of an overall treatment plan for people with emotional and psychological conditions. An ESA can help you feel better, and manage your symptoms on a day to day basis.
People who are helped by ESAs
You may qualify for an emotional support animal if you have a mental health condition that impacts on your quality of life. This includes conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) mood and personality disorders, and many more.
The help an ESA gives
If you find the presence of an animal comforting and you enjoy taking care of an animal’s needs, an ESA may help you with your condition. ESAs are considered assistance animals that can provide therapeutic help.
Unlike a service animal, an ESA is not trained to do specific tasks for you. What they do is help alleviate and manage symptoms associated with mental health. Ways that an ESA may do this include:
Unconditional love: Animals have an enormous capacity for unconditional love. Be good to them, and they will be good for you and be there with unlimited companionship and affection with no-strings-attached.
Regular routines: Taking care of an animal involves establishing regular routines. Pets need feeding at regular intervals, and dogs especially have grooming and exercise needs to take care of.
Stress relief: Just being in the presence of a companion animal can relieve stress, and it gets even better. Patting a pet has a calming effect. Exercising with them even more so. And when an animal makes you smile and laugh, then you’ve hit the jackpot!
Companionship: Feelings of isolation and being alone are common in people living with emotional and psychological conditions. An emotional support animal provides a form of social support to remind you that you are not alone, and there is another being sharing their life with you.
Understanding others: The care involved in looking after an animal can help with understanding that others have needs that have to be met. Animals also help with understanding similarities and difference.
Security: For anyone with anxiety around going outside, or even being in their own home an emotional support animal, especially a dog, can provide a sense of security to help overcome these types of fears to live life a little easier.
Sociability: Once you have an animal in your life, you automatically have some common ground and conversation piece with every other person on the planet who has a pet. As someone with a dog, you will interact with others while you are out walking or be able to talk with others about their pets.
Physical benefits: There are physical benefits to having an animal in your life. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and oxytocin are affected by interacting with a pet, as is blood pressure.
How an ESA helps while you’re traveling
If you have a fear of flying or anxiety around traveling in general, being able to have your emotional support animal can help. So long as they are an animal that is appropriate to take traveling, and you are not adding any stress to the animal or yourself, an ESA can help overcome these fears by providing a distraction and offering comfort.
In the United States, the Air Carrier Access Act protects the rights of people with ESAs to fly with an emotional support animal if they need them on the flight, or at their destination. If you are intending to fly with an ESA, be aware that airlines have their own policies and procedures. The airline is likely to ask for an ESA letter and other documentation. Carriers can refuse animals, so always check in advance.
How an ESA helps where you live
Your home is, of course, going to be the number one place where an emotional support animal is going to help you feel better. This is where their presence, companionship, and support will come to the fore – in your regular day to day living.
If you live in rental housing, including campus accommodation, your property manager must make “reasonable accommodation” for anyone with an ESA under the Fair Housing Act. This legislation helps protect the rights of people with emotional support animals to have their animal live with them. There are a few exceptions though, such as if your animal is a health and safety risk to anyone else. Landlords and property managers can also ask for a copy of your ESA letter to confirm you are eligible for this type of assistance.
Feeling good about how you click and connect
While there are no strict limits on the types of animals that can be ESAs, dogs, and cats are the most common. Why? These are the types of domestic pets that many of us have already “clicked with” or felt a particular affinity with, or connection to, in our lives.
Emotional support animals can also help us as a human being with our need to feel needed. Having an animal in your life comes with responsibilities, and this is a good thing. You are responsible for taking care of their needs in order for them, in turn, to help you with yours. The bond between a person and an animal should be mutually beneficial.
Taking the first step towards an ESA
If you are wondering whether an emotional support animal might help you feel better, talk to your health professional or try a free pre-screen. If you are not sure on whether to get a cat or a dog or a particular breed, do some research on what kind of care each needs. From there, find the companion that will help make your world a better place. Click here for more information.