Any animal owner would agree that there are benefits to having animals around. For some individuals with mental health challenges, the presence of their animal is vital to their ability to function and lead independent lives. The benefits of having an ESA may be the only reason they are able to get out of bed in the morning. Without it, they might experience a compromised quality of life, as with any other disability.
Though frequently misunderstood, Emotional Support Animals or ESAs are not simply household pets, nor are they task-trained Service Animals. An ESA is most commonly recommended as a part of a treatment plan for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder or those suffering from a chronic illness’s debilitating mental health effects. There are many other mental and emotional health conditions that can benefit from the presence of an Emotional Support Animal. If your condition greatly impacts your mental health and wellness, an ESA can help!
The therapeutic effects of Emotional Support Animals have proven to considerably improve their owners’ physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being. Studies conclude that over 74% of pet owners report an improvement in their mental health due to the owner’s interactions with their pets. Evidence supports the benefits of ESAs for those suffering from chronic mental illness. The research documents lower anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress with quantifiable benefits to individuals with serious mental illness.
An animal’s impact on its human goes beyond improving the owner’s mental health and well-being. Animal ownership also helps you to live longer! A recent study published in the Circulation journal in 2019 found that individuals who owned dogs lived longer than those without dogs. Furthermore, people at risk of having a heart attack and owning a dog had a 65% reduced mortality risk. That’s pretty amazing!
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
Dogs are most frequently thought of when we talk about ESAs, but it’s important to remember that other pets can also offer emotional support. Any animal that provides unconditional support, comfort, or aid to an individual through companionship, positive attention, or affection can be considered an Emotional Support Animal.
Both Emotional Support and Psychiatric Service Animals can detect emotions and, in some cases, mental health issues that have yet to surface. Meaning they can often detect the effects of mental and emotional distress before humans are aware of it.
Various factors can negatively influence your mental health and wellness. An ESA can assist you daily, providing significant benefits to your mental health.
Studies show that petting an animal for even just a few minutes helps to increase endorphins and improve your mood, sleep, and stress regulation. Petting an animal can also decrease blood pressure and lower heart rates. It’s fascinating to note that a cat’s purr is said to have a healing effect on humans. Pets help us cope with everyday challenges, decrease feelings of loneliness and also help to improve the mood of people with depression.
Having an emotional support animal is comparable to having a good friend to hang out with when you feel overwhelmed. Whenever they are there, you feel less alone. They provide a sense of calm, can de-escalate negative thoughts, and help to disrupt the cascade of dark and overwhelming feelings or being consumed by thinking about your problems.
Unlike people, pets offer you a judgment-free zone where you can be who you are without worrying about what others think or how they feel about you. They provide a listening ear and gently remind you that you are lovable just by being you. Sometimes, just having that space to let out your emotions without the fear of judgment is all you need. An impartial purr and cat kisses or dog licks are more therapeutic than sharing with a person.
Caring for pets brings joy and purpose into our lives, which is a powerful motivator. It can be challenging to get out of bed and face the day when you’re feeling down. When a fur baby depends on you for his basic needs, it ensures that your day has some purpose. Veterans who have experienced PTSD confirm that having an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal as a part of their treatment plan gives them a sense of purpose.
An ESA can offer companionship and alleviate loneliness for individuals feeling alone or isolated. Animals can provide companionship during difficult times that would be burdensome for us to face alone. This, combined with the physical affection an ESA provides, makes them great companions.
An ESA can also provide a natural outlet for connecting with others and building relationships. You’ll likely meet and interact with dog owners when you’re out at places such as dog parks or walking your ESA. These interactions may lead you to create new friendships and feel more connected and less isolated overall.
Research demonstrates that people feel less lonely, anxious, and relaxed when petting or holding an animal. It only takes a few minutes of snuggling with your ESA before your brain begins to release serotonin and regulate your mood. This can improve your mood and be a significant healing factor when dealing with past trauma.
Studies have shown that service animal companionship can effectively treat mental disorders like PTSD. Once licensed therapists began recommending that people get ESAs to alleviate the symptoms of trauma and other mental health issues, they became a popular treatment option for individuals struggling with mental health challenges. According to this research, people also experienced reduced depression, and their blood pressure and heart rate began normalizing.
If these benefits can happen from spending only a small amount of time with animals, imagine what a huge difference it would make in improving mental health and providing trauma support over the long haul. This shows just how legitimate it is to have an ESA when dealing with mental health or trauma issues.
Pairing the care of a skilled mental health professional with the holistic benefits of an Emotional Support Animal is the perfect pairing. Your ESA should be considered an extension of your therapist rather than a replacement for your therapist. The two should go hand in hand as a part of a holistic treatment plan for your mental health.
A common reality for individuals in counseling is that the process tends to unearth big feelings and emotions that can be challenging to deal with between therapy sessions on your own. One significant benefit to having an ESA in addition to your counselor is that your ESA can be with you at home and is available to provide comfort and companionship any time of the day and night, whenever needed. Some therapists have a flexible schedule, but none can offer you that!
There are many options available to treat mental health disorders. It’s true for ANY disability, whether visible or invisible, that what works for one may not work for another. Some individuals benefit most from counseling under the care of a licensed therapist. Others may see considerable improvement using prescription medications. Some seek help from holistic means such as acupuncture or chiropractic care. And others find marked improvement through the assistance of a companion animal. All of these are acceptable treatment options. Are Support Animals replacing therapists? Replace would be a very strong word. We always advocate for a comprehensive plan that works best for individual situations.
You may have never realized how much you need your pet for your mental wellness or how beneficial his presence is in your life. He is so much more than a four-legged friend. Your pet is a source of comfort essential to your wellness plan. Imagine having your pet there to help ground you as you experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, irrational fears, racing thoughts, or even difficulty sleeping. This can be your reality. And the best news is that it only takes a few simple steps to qualify for an ESA or PSA with the guidance of a trained mental health professional.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
More Great Resources