Heard the term ESA recently? It’s not the ESA otherwise known as in the European Space Agency! To most people in the United States, an ESA is an emotional support animal. That is unless you’re Stephen Spielberg – perhaps his concept for the ET character came from a combined love of companion animals and outer space!
It’s not unusual though for people to ponder and ask many questions about emotional support animals. In recent years there have been many opinions and reports published on them. ESAs help people with invisible illnesses, so the reasons why are not always obvious.
So who has an ESA and why? What are they, and where do they fit in with other assistance animals?
ESA 101 – Who, What, Why and Where
Emotional support animals are companion animals that may assist someone with a mental health condition. To qualify for an ESA, a person is assessed by a licensed medical health professional as having an emotional or psychological disability.
A wide range of conditions can benefit from companion animals. These include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood, and personality disorders, autism, anxiety, ADHD, and others. Health professionals who recognize the benefits of ESAs may consider whether a particular type of animal is right for an individual. It is important that having the animal will alleviate or relieve their particular symptoms and not add to them.
ESAs aren’t a cure-all or the only way to help mental health but can form part of an overall treatment plan. The decision on the appropriate type of animal depends on what species a person bonds with. The type of ESA also depends on the person’s ability and means to look after the animal. Take all of those factors into consideration, and it becomes obvious why most ESAs are the same types of animals we already know and love as household companions.
Yes, ESAs are usually the same kind of domestic pets that people bring into their everyday life. You’ll mostly find they are dogs and cats, but other animals can be considered a form of emotional support as well.
Although they are considered assistance animals, ESAs don’t receive any special training to do what they do. It is their presence that benefits the emotional or psychological wellbeing and health of “their” person in some way.
Although they are assistance animals, emotional support animals are not service animals.
Service animals are specifically trained to do tasks that will help a person with a physical or psychiatric disability. Nor are ESAs therapy animals. Therapy animals are usually found in a group setting with a handler to help with people’s physical, psychological, or social wellbeing.
ESA 102 – How an ESA Can Help
Medical health professionals, animal behaviorists and social scientists who advocate for the use of emotional support animals tend to agree – ESAs can help human health! Emotional support animals can help overcome symptoms that can limit a person’s ability to be fully functional.
What’s more the emotional support animal Rx can help reduce people’s emotional and physical symptoms in a variety of ways.
Many people affected by mental health conditions find social interaction with other people challenging. They may withdraw from other people, experience anxiety in certain situations, or lack confidence in expressing themselves.
The company of an ESA is a type of social support in itself. The sharing of one’s life with a companion animal can help with feelings of isolation and aloneness. The interaction with an animal also helps with people’s ability to express affection, and communicate in general. Having an animal or pet also helps with connecting with other people. The care and companionship involved with an animal can be a conversation starter or common ground to in relationships.
People with emotional support animals that need regular exercise, such as dogs, also usually find this helps with everything from a making eye-contact and smiling, to meeting like-minded people while they’re out and about.
Unconditional Love and Caring For Another
Sadly, we live in a world where there are a lot of “isms” and stigmas attached to many aspects of what it is to be human. The very personal bond people often share with a companion animal or emotional support animal is unconditional, non-judgmental, and free from any prejudices.
An animal doesn’t judge a person based on a label, and so long as they are cared for, they give out a lot of love.
The other side of this is at the same time a person with an ESA is learning how to love and care for another living being that is different to them. They get to know what their needs are, what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and in turn, where they may need to adjust their own actions.
People’s interaction with pets has been found to have physiological benefits that can impact on health and wellbeing. What’s more is this is reciprocal, when the same indicators are measured in animals they are found to be similar in terms of changes.
It’s not just the physical contact either…
People with pets have been reported as having lower blood pressure. This, in turn, helps with a person’s ability to manage stress and anxiety. In terms of emotions, the act of stroking and petting an animal can positively affect our neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and serotonin – the love and happy hormones!
The caring involved with an animal also requires us to move our bodies a little more. Depending on the person’s needs this could range from matching a dog’s need for a brisk walk to ensuring a cat’s food and water bowls are regularly replenished.
People with mental health conditions often need support to be able to do regular everyday activities that others take for granted. For example, someone with anxiety may need support to feel safe in their home an emotional support animal can help with a sense of security.
For someone with an extreme fear and phobia of flying, an emotional support animal can provide a distraction and help them remain calm. For someone with a debilitating depression, it can be hard to engage with life. An emotional support animal can help with participation. Learn more about ESAs by reading CertaPet’s blog!