Do you remember when you were a kid and the family pooch or kitty seemed to have an innate sense of just when to rub against you – no matter what you were doing, but especially if you were a little sad or worried? At that very moment, that love and adoration you shared meant everything in the whole world.
Emotional support animals, aka ESAs, can have much the same effect for people with a range of mental health conditions. As the name implies, an emotional support animal can help with being mentally and emotionally strong – they are a form of social support.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal and What Are the Benefits?
Technically there is no one type or species of animal that is considered the best type of emotional support animal. Although in saying that, most people with emotional support animals opt for the very same types furry friends people have kept as pets for eons – cats and dogs.
Why so? Some of the reasons why are practical – there are many animals simply not suited to be kept in domestic environments. Humanity lived with cats and dogs as companions for a very long time. If you are an animal lover or a previous pet owner, you will understand how that affection can be mutually beneficial.
The Unconditional Love of an ESA
Emotional support animals offer unconditional love and acceptance. Treat an animal well, and chances are they will respond with limitless affection. An emotional support animal passes no judgment on what you look like, sound like, and how your mental health condition may impact on other areas of your life.
The Sense of Solidarity and Security of an ESA
Many people living with a mental health condition having feelings of being detached or isolated from others around them. An emotional support animal can offer companionship and give someone the sense that they have a buddy in life that is walking and living alongside them from day to day.
An ESA Can Get You Moving
No matter what type of emotional support animal you have, you are going to increase your physical movement, which in turn helps with a healthy mind. Even the simple act of stroking a cat or dog affects the neurotransmitters in our brains that influence our moods. Exercise and/or play games and have fun with your emotional support animal, and you’ll get even more of a mind-body win-win.
The Understanding of “Another”
Taking care of a pet or an emotional support animal is a responsibility. You get to know and learn what another animal needs to survive in terms of their health, diet, and exercise. Every animal has its own unique personality to get to know and understand how to live with them and take care of their needs.
Caring for another living being can also help bring some structure and routine into own your daily life. For someone with anxiety or depression, an emotional support animal can be a focal point to help with reframing thinking when faced with triggers that may result in feelings of being unwell.
ESAs can Help Reduce Stress
There are many studies that have concluded that people who live with pets have lower blood pressure and therefore less risk of stress-related illnesses. Many factors come into play in the stress relief – the physical contact and touching with your pet, any exercise you get, along with the feelings of joy and happiness you get from watching and interacting with your animal. Even better if you have an ESA that likes to play the clown!
Connecting with Others
Living with an emotional support animal or pet can also help with forming connections and bonds with other people. Pet “ownership” or living with an animal companion is always a great ice-breaker or conversation piece, especially for people who aren’t necessarily comfortable making small-talk in social settings. The care involved in looking after pets can also bring in contact with other like-minded people, both online and in your local community.
Emotional Support Animals in Housing
If you live in rented residential accommodation, there are provisions under the Fair Housing Act for you to live with an emotional support animal to help with a mental health condition. A property owner or landlord must make “reasonable accommodation” for someone with an ESA, even if they normally have a no-pets policy. This means they cannot refuse you accommodation on the basis of your ESA, or charge you any additional fees in advance (this website is a great resource for more info).
Emotional Support Animals during Air Travel
The Air Carrier Access Act has provisions for people with emotional support animals to fly with their ESA. Why? An emotional support animal can be of comfort to someone during the flight, or the person may need their animal to help manage or alleviate symptoms associated with their condition at their destination.
Getting an Emotional Support Animal
If you want to find out more about whether an emotional support animal may be right for you there are a couple of options. You can talk with your current mental health professional, or contact a legitimate online service to connect with someone in your State.
They will establish with you whether bringing an emotional support animal into your life may be of benefit to your mental health condition. They will establish whether it is appropriate for you to have an emotional support animal as part of your overall treatment plan to help you manage any associated symptoms. Conditions that may qualify someone for an ESA include those listed in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
ESAs can help people living with conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, phobias and many more. People who may benefit from emotional support animals come from all walks and stages of life.