How to Get an ESA
Introducing an emotional support animal (ESA) into your life can be a life-changing moment. Why? Finding effective ways to manage any illness and associated symptoms can be challenging. When you find something that helps you, it can be a Eureka moment! The companionship offered by an ESA, together with the activities you engage in to take care of an animal can have that awesome effect. So, how do you get an ESA?
It’s almost all about you
What may qualify you for an emotional support animal is an emotional or psychological condition that affects or impacts on your life. There are many, many, types of mental health conditions and disorders that may benefit from having an emotional support animal.
Disorders listed under the current Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association can qualify. These include conditions, illnesses, and symptoms such as
- Phobias and Fears
- Mood, social anxiety and panic disorders
- Post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD)
Mental health conditions are often invisible illnesses. To confirm a diagnosis, you need to be assessed by a suitably qualified mental health professional. There are many practitioners who support the emotional support animals as part of a treatment plan for mental health issues.
- Your regular medical doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist can assess your eligibility for an emotional support animal.
- You can contact a reputable online service (such as this one) that will connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your State.
Choosing a type of emotional support animal
Emotional support animals are assistance animals. However, unlike service animals that perform actual tasks – such as seeing-eye dogs – they do receive any special training to do their ‘job’. That means the choice of a type of animal is yours in terms of species and breed.
Most people with emotional support animals opt for dogs and/or cats, and sometimes other small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs? Why? These are very same animals that people have lovingly shared their lives with as domesticated animal companions for centuries. We intrinsically know the love and affection these animals can give. And, there is a lot of support and advice out there to ensure we take care of the animal’s needs as well.
When it comes to breed and species, consider an animal that suits your personality and what will help your symptoms. Some animals are high maintenance and need regular grooming and exercise. Others are more laid back and low maintenance beings that live quietly alongside you.
The benefits of emotional support animals
Understanding that domestic pets and animals can bring a lot of joy into people’s lives isn’t new. However, but relatively speaking formal research into the phenomenon is. Over the past few decades, studies have looked into how the relationship between people and animals impacts both. Some of the key benefits of emotional both our physical and mental health include:
- Social Support: The interaction with an animal is a very real form of social support for many. The non-judgmental presence and affection shared with an animal can help with feelings of isolation and difference.
- Routines, Structure, and Focus: Caring for any other living being involves a commitment of both time and resources. Looking after an animal can help with establishing healthy routines and timetables in your own life. An animal can also provide another focus for your mind and thoughts when things are hard.
- Healthier Brains and Bodies: That’s right, there is a physical effect. The obvious that involve the movement of your body you probably already know – dog’s need walks, cats like to play with you. Both love being stroked and patted which is calming to both of you. The not so obvious bonus is the interaction between humans and animals affects our neurotransmitters and hormones that affect our moods in positive ways.
Getting your emotional support animal
If you haven’t already got an existing pet, or experience with a particular species or breed, do your homework. See if you can spend some time with different types of animals before you make your decision.
There are many libraries and schools that have programs involving therapy animals. You can meet therapy animals such as dogs and cats with their handlers. Visit a local animal shelter, animal rescue organization, or veterinary club. Research different breeds and contact reputable breeders to find out about different types of animals.
Look into the care and costs involved in the animal. For example, big breeds need lots of space, and usually lots of food and exercise to match! Long-haired breeds with cute, soft, and fluffy coats usually need time commitments to bathe, groom, and brush. Check where you live is suitable for your choice of emotional support animal.
Laws around existing pets versus emotional support animals
You may already have an existing pet that you want to make ‘official’ as your emotional support animal. Why would you do that? There are two laws in the United States that offer some protection for people with ESAs. These are the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
The Fair Housing Act applies to people living in rental housing, including those in campus accommodation. Under the FHA a landlord or property owner must make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for anyone with an ESA. There are exceptions to the rules. But in general, if having your pet/emotional support animal helps you cope day to day, this law can help with having them live with you.
The Air Carrier Access Act has provisions for people to bring their emotional support animals on flights in the US free of charge. For someone with a mental health condition, the presence of the animal can help them during travel, and/or be needed at their destination. Airlines do have their own policies to follow around both ESAs and pets on flights.
Having an ESA in Your Life
Enjoy! The bond between an animal and the person they live with is special. Talk with a licensed mental health professional. They will help you decide whether an emotional support animal can help you manage your condition.