Pet lovers are the people who can attest to how much unconditional love and joy their pets give to them. Even the toughest person can quickly fall in love with a furry pal. That is why many licensed mental health professionals now recognize the benefits of emotional support animals to overcoming a mental illness.
Even Sigmund Freud, the renowned Psychoanalyst, is no stranger to this type of therapy. In fact, his chow-chow dog, named Jofi, is often present in his therapy sessions with some of his patients. Why so? Being around pets increases happy hormones. That explains the feeling why you get all mushy and cuddly when you see a cute puppy.
This article aims to answer how animals help with people’s mental wellness, who can benefit from it the most, the science behind it, and how to qualify for an emotional support animal.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animals
First of all, what is the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal? Many people use these two terms interchangeably, but they are different. A service dog is a trained dog to assist or guide a person with a disability (physical, intellectual, sensory, or mental disability).
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, service dogs or service animals can guide the blind and are trained to assist persons with disabilities in performing everyday tasks. Service animals are trained to pull a wheelchair, retrieve dropped items, alert a person to sounds, pressing the elevator button, and even remind when to take a medication.
Emotional support animals can be dogs, cats, birds, or reptiles. An emotional support animal (ESA) provides a therapeutic effect to the owner through companionship. The animal provides comfort to persons with a mental health decline or other psychiatric illness.
Mental Health Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Mental health professionals note vast improvements in patients who have a mental illness thanks to the animal’s emotional support. Here are the proven mental health benefits of an ESA:
Mental and Emotional Encouragement
Emotional support animals provide comfort to owners with mental health issues. Especially to those who have:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety Disorders
- Specific phobias like agoraphobia and aerophobia
They Help Produce Neurotransmitters
Studies show that animals, especially dogs, help in producing neurotransmitters that make a person happy. Dogs increase the neurochemicals in the brain called dopamine. This is the neurochemical associated with love, bonding, and pleasure. Studies show that when pet owners look at their dogs’ eyes, they feel love and happiness.
When you take care of another living being or a pet, your capacity to love increases, and you feel less depressed. For people who feel lonely, when they have an animal around, they feel safer and feel loved. No wonder there are paw parents and fur babies because the attachment of pet owners involves love.
They Calm Plane Anxiety
As mentioned earlier, ESAs can help people with specific phobias, such as aerophobia (fear of flying in airplanes). Some people find it an excruciating experience to travel on planes. Aerophobia is a real disorder. That is why some airlines are now allowing them to travel with pets inside the aircraft.
During the flight, an emotional support animal can provide support by reducing anxiety. People with aerophobia may feel overwhelmed during a flight, and hugging or holding their pet may reduce the feelings of anxiety. If you have a fear of flying, consider having an ESA with you.
They Provide Unconditional Love
Animals can feel love and give love too. The truth is, animals provide unconditional love. They provide unconditional love where people who struggle from a mental health decline can benefit from. With the unconditional love provided by these animals, a person will feel loved and get back on their feet after a difficult emotional turmoil.
When a person is feeling loved, this can dramatically improve a person’s overall mental health. This is important for a person to re-engage with the people around them, form loving relationships, and having more meaningful relationships with their loved ones.
They Work In Conjunction With Other Forms Of Treatment
Therapists or counselors are becoming more aware that emotional support animals work in conjunction with other forms of treatment to overcome mental illness. It’s like advising patients to exercise or to eat nutritious foods to control the symptoms of a mental health problem or avoid depression.
ESAs are used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Treatment. Pets are utilized for mindfulness techniques, find a sense of purpose, encourage patients to spend more time outdoors (by walking their dog), and feel safe during high levels of stress. Whichever form of therapy that works for you, you will find that emotional safe haven you need when you incorporate an ESA into your treatment plan.
They Can Help Stabilizing Intense Emotions
During tough times, emotional support animals can help individuals to stabilize intense emotions. Pet owners say that when they’re feeling down or are tired from a long day at work, they feel happier when they get home and see their pets. They’re like children who are stress busters.
Even how anxious or scared you are, the bonding time with your pet will always be a happy moment. Most especially when your pet does silly and cute things, you forget about all the intense emotions.
They Provide Social Support
Most families consider their pets as family members. Why so? Because even though they’re animals, they provide social support. Each person needs a social companion to meet their emotional and mental health needs.
When you’re living alone and feeling lonely, having an ESA around feels like you have a friend around. Having a pet, especially a dog, gives you a reason to go out for a walk, maybe a run, or spend time outdoors. These are all good for your mental well-being.
Who Can Benefit The Most From Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional comfort is an important contributing factor why people want emotional support animals. They support those who are struggling with emotional turmoils and mental problems. If psychiatrists prescribe medications to ease the symptoms of an illness, therapists suggest the presence of an animal for emotional support. Who can benefit most from emotional support animals?
Children And Teens Who Are At Risk Of Depression
Studies show that children or teens with pets have a decreased risk of developing depression and other mental health conditions. Children who experience trauma or have parents divorcing are at risk of having mental conditions. Research shows that when youth are given pets and take care of them, they have a sense of companionship, sense of responsibility, and positive emotional response.
Psychiatric patients can benefit the most from the companionship of an emotional support animal. It was found that psychiatric patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, after ten weekly sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in conjunction with having an ESA, have improved quality of life, better motivation, and were found to be productive in their leisure time.
War Veterans & Active-Duty Soldiers
War veterans and active-duty soldiers with PTSD found it beneficial to take care of service dogs or K9s. ESAs among war veterans and soldiers have been shown to help improve sleeping patterns, parenting skills, and lower startle rates (as caused by PTSD). During a stressful encounter, the presence of dogs makes the owner feel safe and realize that they are no longer in a threatening situation.
Prison inmates are prone to emotional and mental health distress. They miss their families, are worried about their safety, and the lack of meaningful activities inside the facility. Some prison inmates resort to taking care of pets within the facility like cats, mouse or birds. They channel their love to these pets and appreciate the companionship. As a result, they have reduced loneliness and have a lower risk of developing mental illness.
The Fair Housing Act mandates that college students should be allowed to have emotional support animals in their university dorms. This is because animals can help lower depression and loneliness. University students are away from their families, have high pressures in doing well in school, and worry about their piling student loans. That’s why ESAs are allowed inside the dorms to help students cope emotionally and mentally.
ESAs Are Beneficial To All
To simply have a pet at home fills the gap of being alone and brings joy to anyone. That’s why everyone can benefit from taking care of ESAs. It doesn’t matter if you call it an emotional support animal or your best friend. It is without a doubt that animals may make you happy.
How To Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal?
If you need an emotional support animal to fly on airplanes, or your landlord does not allow pets in the housing, you need proper documentation for your ESA. All you need is to consult a licensed mental health professional or psychiatrist that the animal you have is an essential part of your treatment. Therapists now include dogs or any pets in the Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) sessions to lower stress levels and improve overall general happiness.
Thoughts To Ponder
Pets provide emotional support and companionship. They can be your best friend and a part of the family. Now that ESAs are proven to be an essential part of therapy, there’s more reason to spend time with your fur babies. Are you qualified to apply for an ESA? Talk to a counselor at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) now. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional in KCC now.