Emotional support animals have undergone some harsh criticism in recent months. With news of emotional support peacocks, squirrels and even kangaroos circulating, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are somewhat of a gimmick, and not even a real therapeutic aid. However, this is an unfair rap. Despite what you may have seen and heard about emotional support animals, they are truly an essential treatment aid for those who need them. If you’ve been brainwashed by the media, it’s time to get the real facts. This article explains the truth about ESAs and why they are so important for those struggling with their mental health.
Emotional Support Animals: What are They, Really?
All these exotic animals may have gotten you confused, so let’s set the record straight about what ESAs really are, and what they do. Emotional support animals are therapeutic aids for those who are suffering from mental health problems, which affect more than 43.8 million adults each year in the U.S. alone. Emotional support animals provide a calming, soothing presence to owners with a range of mental health issues, making them an accessible and effective aid. They are not service animals, which specifically trained for tasks that are vitally important for the safety of their owners. Instead, their role is to keep their owners feeling supported and comforted their presence. Emotional support animals are covered by the Aircraft Carrier Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The former of these supports an ESA owner’s right to travel with their animal on public air carriers (depending on the individual policy of the carrier) and the latter allows owners to reside in any accommodation, regardless of pet policy. This means that while permissions for ESAs are not as far-reaching as those for service animals, it is still possible for owners to live and travel with their animals.
Who Are They Suitable For?
The great thing about emotional support animals is that they are suitable for a wide range of purposes. Some of the most common mental health issues that emotional support animals can assist in treating are:
- Alcohol/Substance Dependence
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety
Difficulties in Treating Mental Illness
One of the reasons why emotional support animals are so important as a treatment option for those who are mentally ill is the difficulty with which this area of health is handled by medical professionals. While research is progressing every day, it is well-understood that mental heath is a highly variable in each individual, making it hard to find a reliable and effective cure or treatment for all. These difficulties in treating mental health issues mean that many patients are not given correct treatment or avoid treatment altogether. This can lead to a large amount of patients experiencing more intense symptoms and suffering from their illness with little or no support. ESAs provide a cheap and accessible solution to treatment for many of those who cannot afford other methods of treatment.
To Medicate or not to Medicate
One of the other pressing matters that often accompanies mental health discussions is the decision of whether to medicate or not for diagnosed conditions. This is sometimes an individual choice, or it may simply be too expensive for a patient to access the medication that they may need. It’s also been proven that many typically used medications for mental health have adverse side effects, or can even lead to addiction problems. Whether the choice not to take medication is spurred by individual choice, monetary reasons or even negative side effects or addiction issues, it’s great that ESAs are a drug-free option which patients can choose. Accessibility of emotional support animals is high, with technically any animal being able to be prescribed as an ESA, as long as the owner holds an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This means that any pet, from a shelter dog to a breeder, to an existing pup can be used as a natural form of therapy to help overcome mental health issues.
Ways that ESAs Assist in Treating Mental Health Issues
Emotional support animals are an excellent option for treating mental health issues, without the need for harsh and potentially addictive medications. ESAs can help to treat the root of both physical and psychological symptoms in patients. The physical effects of pets take place in the brain, where our interactions with these fluffy helpers can actually assist our brain to improve on a chemical level, therefore negating the effects of a number of different mental illnesses. Pets can encourage our brains to lower the level of cortisol the stress hormone, which can have huge positive effects on our physical and mental health. Another benefit is that petting animals (especially pets) can boost levels of oxytocin and dopamine. These powerful chemicals can help to re balance brain chemistry, which while not a cure all for mental health conditions, are instrumental in helping to heal the brain and assist it to function normally again. The psychological benefits are also notable, including distracting the owner from negative thoughts, encouraging socialization, routine and exercise.
Emotional support animals are truly an important treatment option for those with mental health issues (CertaPet is a great resource to learn more). For some, without these animals, they would not receive treatment at all, due to economic or social reasons. ESAs are an easily accessible and affordable source of psychological treatment which means that more people than ever can obtain the treatment that they need, and deserve.
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