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Discovering Emotional Support Animals

By Julia Gormley
On April 14, 2018

Photo by: Julia Gormley

Between class assignments, sports, clubs, work and a social life, college students are challenged with the tough task of balancing all activities and responsibilities while remaining sane. For some, extenuating circumstances create too much disruption, and their mental health ultimately takes a toll. Self-care is an important part of finding this balance and making sure students are mentally, intellectually and physically healthy. For many individuals across the United States, Emotional Support Animals, or Companion Animals, serve as a healthy outlet and self-care tactic to balance the stresses of life.

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

ESA’s are animals that can be “prescribed” by a mental health professional or a professional medical provider. explains that ESA’s are often incorporated into a patient’s wellness plan to work toward set mental health goals by providing comfort to the patient, and something positive to focus on. Unlike service animals, ESA’s do not require specific training or certification, and nearly any animal can be prescribed as one, under the circumstance that it contributes to the patient’s wellbeing.

How do they help?

Many patients who experience anxiety or depression cite loneliness as one of the biggest triggers to their disorder(s). ESA’s accommodate that while supporting the basic functions of life, such as getting out of bed, establishing a set routine and remaining aware of one’s surroundings. Being responsible for another living being changes someone’s perspective of their existence from meaningless to meaningful, as feeding, grooming, walking or playing with an ESA will take a patient’s mind off whatever is causing the anxiety. No to mention, animals do not have ulterior motives. An animal’s love is one of the purest forms. With this, patients can freely express emotion around their ESA without fear of being judged. Lastly, ESA’s can ward off signs of regression before they begin, as physical touch or your pet’s submissive gesture can symbolize empathy. According to the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, there has been an 82 percent reduction in the symptoms of PTSD (and other trauma-related issues) after just one week of having an emotional support animal.

If they’re so helpful, shouldn’t everyone have one?

While there doesn’t appear to be any negative repercussions, emotional support animals are not for everyone. It is important to remember that this form of treatment is a permanent one (for the length of the animal’s life). It’s not a pill that you can choose not to take. They are living beings that require time, love and attention, which could contribute to an unbalanced lifestyle. There is also a harsh social stigma regarding ESA’s, which questions the patient’s intent of the animal and whether they actually need them or not. People will ask A LOT of questions centered around why you have an ESA and how they help, regardless of whether talking about their current condition will trigger a patient.

Is it worth it?

Ultimately, pets in general have helped families and individuals cope with life for thousands of years. If you have the time to care for an animal and are in a situation where you can care for them for their whole life, this may be the best treatment option for you. After all, nothing is more rewarding than seeing your pet excitedly waiting for you when you arrive home after a long day.

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