What is an Emotional Support Animal? And How Do They Benefit Mental Health?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that provides love and comfort to patients with a mental disorder. They are different from regular dogs or cats, as they are certified to accompany their owner to most places and provide support anytime.

Normal pets can provide the same comfort as an ESA but aren’t legally allowed to be with their owner where pets aren’t permitted. Certified ESA’s can go with you to places like:

  • Restaurants
  • Flights
  • Private occasions
  • Government housing

But to obtain this privilege for your animal, you must follow the rules. Here’s what to know.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

In order to get an ESA, you will need a prescription or a letter from a mental health professional. This professional certifies that you have a diagnosed mental health condition and that you need the ESA to alleviate or lessen your symptoms in a comfort capacity.

ESA’s can vary from dogs and cats to turtles, fish, and even horses. However, a horse may be hard to take into a restaurant. For this reason, it’s important to consider the feasibility of having your ESA accompany you where you need to go when choosing what type of animal becomes your ESA.

What Makes a Good Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

In order for your existing animal to become an ESA, they will need official documentation, along with a temperament test confirming that they are fit to serve you and that they do not pose a threat to the general public.

For example, a dog that is aggressive to others or a cat that runs away when you try to hold it would not generally have the right temperament for an ESA. An animal that is generally:

  • Friendly
  • Comes to you when called or doesn’t run away (e.g., turtle)
  • Is playful or calm, depending on your needs
  • Makes you feel better emotionally when they’re near you

For millennia, animals have provided comfort, support, and companionship to people. The term emotional support animal may be newer, but the concept is not. ESA’s have taken care of patients for a long time and are proven scientifically as an effective method for treating mental disorders.

They are very accessible for more people because they start as normal pets, and some even have formal training. Any animal can be an ESA as long as they have a letter or prescription from a mental health professional.

Service Animal Vs. Emotional Support Animal

A professional or pet parent can train a dog, cat, hamster, or chinchilla to snuggle with you when you feel extreme sadness or sit on your chest during a panic attack. This trained animal may qualify as a service animal because it can perform a specific task when you need it. This is similar to a seeing-eye dog that helps a person with blindness get around.

On the other hand, an emotional service animal provides support just by being near you. They don’t have to be trained to do a specific task when you have symptoms, although you could teach them to do so or have a professional do it.

Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals both need a certificate to accompany you, but service animals may be able to go some places that ESAs can not. This will vary by state and local laws.

Taking Care of Your Emotional Support Animal

Your ESA will take care of you, but you need to be sure to feed, give water, shelter, and vet care to ensure they lead a happy life as well. The better you take care of them, the more comfort they’ll provide for you.

Mental Health Specialists at Jonas Hill

Getting an ESA is just one of many treatment options that can support more fulfilling days and a higher quality of life for those with a mental health diagnosis. If you are struggling with mental health symptoms, we are here to help.

Jonas Hill Hospital & Clinic, a division of Caldwell Memorial Hospital, provides our community with safe, dignified and integrated care for adult patients experiencing an acute mental health need. We provide hope, treatment, and healing through a holistic program of evidence-based psychiatric treatment, team-based medical care, and education provided by engaging and dedicated professionals in a safe and healing environment. Contact Jonas Hill Hospital and Clinic today at (828) 394-6722 for more information. A safe space to heal.