Mental health issues are one of the most prevalent health concerns in the United States as more than 50% of Americans are diagnosed with a mental health issue or disorder at some time during their life. Additionally, 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental health illnesses each year. As mental health is such a widespread issue, and as traditional forms of mental health treatment are expensive, intimidating, or carry a stigma, more and more people are turning to the natural route of mental health management: emotional support animals (ESAs). Emotional support animals provide many benefits to their owners, but it is important to understand what they are, how they differ from service animals, and how to get one legitimately as to avoid being scammed.
Emotional support animals are starkly different than service animals, which are trained to carry out specific tasks for their handlers. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide comfort and support to their owners, without being specifically trained in accomplishing or aiding with certain tasks. Emotional support animals essentially provide support to their owner when dealing with a specific disability, such as anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, etc. Service animals, unlike emotional support animals, will aid their handler through specific assistance to help accommodate for their owner’s disability by either helping with or accomplishing certain tasks they were specifically trained for.
To get an emotional support animal legitimately and to avoid being scammed by online “emotional support animal registrations,” what you need to do is consult your therapist or physician. There are many online forms and registrations that require fees to register your animal as an emotional support animal, however, these are not legitimate routes to getting an emotional support animal. The only way to legally get one is to be prescribed one by your doctor. Your doctor will diagnose you with a mental health condition and prescribe you an emotional support animal to aid you in your daily life. Once done, you will be able to not only live with your animal regardless of pet restrictions, but also fly on planes with them. Additionally, there are a number of other benefits to having an emotional support animal. These range from unconditional love, to actual health benefits, which will be discussed in further detail later.
Anyone who ever loved a dog at some point in their lifetime will likely tell you the benefits and unconditional love they received from their pet. Emotional support animals are no different. They are there to provide love and companionship to their owners while simultaneously offering several other benefits. Let’s look at the top five benefits of emotional support animals.
1.Provide unconditional love and companionship
As touched on earlier, emotional support animals are there to literally provide their owners with unconditional love and companionship. Often times, people with mental health illnesses do not feel worthy of love or think that they cannot receive it. With emotional support animals, however, this is never a concern. The love provided by your emotional support animal will be second to none. They are always there to cheer you up, love on you, and help you through the hard times. As people with mental health illnesses often feel unlovable, it is oftentimes hard to foster human connections. Having an emotional support animal is the first step in the process of developing more meaningful human connections. Bonding with an animal shows people that they are capable of loving and being loved, which in turn helps them when developing actual human connections and relationships.
In addition to unconditional love, having an emotional support animal allows you to bring your animal with you to most places that normal pets are not allowed. This includes airplanes, pet restricted housing, hotels, and even workplaces. However, it is imperative that you have an official emotional support animal letter from a licensed professional to be able to reap these benefits.
2.Reduces feelings of stress and anxiet
Several studies have been done that suggest that interacting with emotional support animals (dogs in particular) can increase dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It is commonly accepted that dopamine is one of the main pleasure chemicals in our brains. While this is true to some extent, it has recently been understood that dopamine confers motivational salience, or signals motivational prominence of an outcome, which in turn, drives a person’s behavior toward or away from reaching the said outcome. Dopamine levels are increased when people experience things that please them, whether it be exercise, food, or even interaction with animals.
One of the reasons for this is because pets can fulfill the basic human need for touch and affection. It has been studied and proven that touching an animal can increase calming effects and even soothe you when you are stressed or anxious. Additionally, having a loving companion can decrease feelings of loneliness, while also promoting healthy exercise, both of which substantially boost mood and lessen depression. As dopamine levels increase in our brain, feelings of stress can significantly lessen.
Another similar benefit of emotional support animals is the reduction of anxiety. Having a loving companion plays a huge role in reducing feelings of anxiety. Emotional support animals require work and need to be cared for. This gives their owners a sense of purpose and easy daily tasks that can encourage and help them live for today, not stressing over the past or worrying about the future.
3. Help regulate daily feeling
People with mental health illnesses often times have a hard time regulating their daily feelings and emotions. Because having an animal requires constant care and attention, individuals with emotional support animals are generally more apt at regulating their daily feelings. This is because they are required to provide for and care for their animal, regardless of what they are currently experiencing. By having an animal to tend to, and one that is always there for you, oftentimes you will be more able to deal with your daily feelings as you have an animal depending upon you.
4.Help stabilize intense emotions
One of the most challenging things about living with a mental illness is the ability to deal with and stabilize intense emotions that are often experienced. During these times of intense emotional episodes, emotional support animals can be a saving grace. Dogs are very intuitive, and often times can sense emotional changes in their person. When someone with a mental health illness is having a hard time handling intense emotions, the steady state of their emotional support animal can be a soothing and calming factor. Because animals require and love attention, providing that to your animal, especially when emotions are running wild, can help distract the owner from their mind and give them something calming to focus on. It has also been studied that because the animal will generally be calm, not depressed, and in a positive state, individuals can begin to reset and mimic the emotions of their emotional support animal.
5. Provide social support and lessens feelings of isolation
As previously mentioned, emotional support animals play a significant role in providing social support and lessening feelings of isolation. Often times, people with mental health illnesses experience a great deal of anxiety in social situations. Having an emotional support animal can significantly reduce the stresses that come with social situations and interacting with other people. Further, oftentimes mental health illnesses prevent people from engaging in social interactions. This can lead to severe feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having an emotional support animal can significantly reduce feelings of isolation as you will always have a loving companion.
These are just some of the many benefits of having an emotional support animal. If you are experiencing a mental health illness, it can behoove you to look into getting an emotional support animal. Especially if traditional forms of therapy are not for you. For instance, traditional therapy routes can be quite expensive, and often times you will be presented with the option to be put on medication. While there is nothing wrong with that, to try a more natural route, and a more affordable one, emotional support animals might be for you. For more information about emotional support animals, do not be shy about speaking to your doctor or mental health provider.
An emotional support animal might be just what you need to help you out of your depression or anxiety. Of course, make sure to go about it the correct way as to avoid any legal implications or scams. Additionally, be sure that what you require is an emotional support animal and not a service animal, as they fill very different roles and provide different benefits. By doing your research and speaking with professionals, you can be sure to acquire your emotional support animal prescription and begin living a healthier and happier life, all with the support of a loving animal by your side.