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The Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Animal For Chronic Mental Illness


Pets; we have them, we love them, we can’t live without them! But can your pet be considered an emotional support animal (ESA), and if not, should you get one?


Contrary to popular belief (and encouraged stigma from falsified cases) ESA’s are NOT “pets”; they are instead categorized as a type of assistance animal. Emotional support animals have risen in popularity as more and more people have spoken with their doctors and discovered the benefits an animal can have on their diagnosed mental illness.


So, what can having an ESA do for someone struggling with mental illness?


Comfort

Sometimes just having your pet near you is all you need.


For example: if you struggle with anxiety, an emotional support animal can help to calm you when you feel symptoms coming on. Think of your pet like a security blanket; they help to soothe you at times when you’re struggling with your mental illness. Petting them, comforting them, or getting puppy kisses can help to take the edge off of a bad day.


Accountability

When you have an ESA, you’re suddenly responsible for the care of someone other than yourself. For many, this can be a motivator to keep going at bad times; to get out of bed in the morning, or even to serve as a reminder to themselves to eat and do basic care for themselves because of the routine of caring for their animal.


Companionship

The companionship provided by your emotional support animal can be irreplaceable at times when you’re feeling isolated; a common symptom of many mental illnesses. Whether you live on your own or just need someone to talk to that won’t judge you, your ESA is always there for you to lean on.


ESA or Psychiatric Service Dog: Know the Difference

There has been a lot of tension in recent years as people have falsely labeled their pets ESA’s or service animals to be able to take them places without their animal having the appropriate socialization, temperaments, or training to be in those settings. There are even websites capitalizing on this false rhetoric by providing “registries” and “certifications” (which don’t actually exist for legal ESA’s and Service animals) for a fee.


Make sure you know what qualifies your animal as a pet, an emotional support animal, or a psychiatric service dog (PSD)!


ESA’s:

  • Prescribed by a licensed medical professional, just like medication

  • Any kind of domesticated animal, so long as it provides support to its human companion for mental/emotional conditions

  • Not trained to perform specific tasks

  • Protected under the Fair Housing Act; this means your landlord cannot deny you your pet or require pet fees

  • NOT legally required to be allowed in other spaces (restaurants, stores, planes, etc.)

  • Owner is diagnosed with a mental health condition that is considered debilitating

  • Protected by the ADA; can go everywhere with the owner. Owner CAN be asked if it is a service dog and what tasks/work the dog is trained to do.

  • Received special training to perform specific tasks that aid their owner, like detecting and intervening in panic attacks, awakening their owner from nightmares, fetching medication, etc.

By being responsible pet owners and spreading awareness, we can work together to break the stigma created by these false claims. By educating the people around us about the important and real support provided by ESA’s and PSD’s, and discouraging them from seeking the benefits without the need, we help to end the negative rhetoric surrounding ESA’s.


Remember: ESA’s Are Not A Replacement for Medication or Crisis Resources

While an emotional support animal can help in many cases, it cannot “cure” your mental illness or provide the chemical support of prescribed medications. ESA’s can be of great help if you have mild symptoms or in addition to prescribed medications and appropriate routine medical care, but should never be used as the only form of treatment. And they are definitely not replacements for professional help in times of crisis.


If you find yourself in crisis, please find the appropriate resources, like the Crisis Text Line, to help with your support needs.

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