If you’ve been struggling with your mental health lately, you might have realized that dealing with it alone is really, really hard.
Keeping such a heavy problem to yourself can make it worse – the hiding, the avoidance of loved ones and the shame that can often accompany mental health struggles. However, we know that anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions are serious, and they generally don’t just go away on their own. That’s what makes it so important to reach out to get the help that you need.
One option that has come to light in recent years in treating mental health is the use of emotional support animals.
Emotional support animals, or ESAs as they can also be known, are animals that provide support to a person who is experiencing mental health difficulties by providing companionship, support and encouraging a multitude of positive brain chemistry and mood changes. Science backs up the trend of using ESAs, with many therapists now prescribing fluffy helpers to assist their patients as part of a treatment plan.
If you or someone you know could benefit from having a gorgeous emotional support pet in their life, then you’ll need to know this important information to help you through the process.
Choosing an ESA
One of the reasons investing in an emotional support animal for your health is such a great idea is that emotional support animals require no specific training. This means, for those that already have a pet, they are automatically eligible to be a support animal! That’s awesome news for those of us who already have a loving, supportive pet that helps us through hard times. Obviously, because your ESA will be accompanying you in public places, so if you want to use your existing pet they must be well-trained, and you must be able to be in control of them at all times.
Of course, if you’ve not yet taken the leap in finding a furbaby, it’s also a good thing. Because ESAs don’t require specific training, any pet can be registered as an emotional support animal. That means whether you want to adopt, find a pet through a breeder, or even rescue a stray – they can all be registered as emotional support animals. It also means that using a support animal as a mental health aid need not be expensive. Just choose a pet that fits your budget.
Getting Your ESA Letter – Emotional Support Animal Letter
Once you’ve found your perfect pet match, you’ve got the hardest part covered! The next step is to get them prescribed as an emotional support animal. There isn’t actually an emotional support animal register as such, as United States law does not require an emotional support animal to be on a register at this time. Instead, you’ll need an emotional support animal certification from a licensed mental health professional There are quite a few paths to take to do this – and it really is an individual choice. Depending on your preference, you can choose one of these options to have your pet officially an ESA.
Approval From Your LMHP
If you are currently being treated by a practitioner or looking into this option, they are able to provide an ESA letter for you to begin using an emotional support animal. This includes doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Discuss with your practitioner how an ESA could assist you in dealing with your day-to-day struggles, or even in recovering from your condition. Once you have decided on how an ESA could help as part of a treatment plan, your practitioner will complete an ESA letter for you.
Another option if for any reason you are not currently able to attend evaluation or treatment in person is to begin teletherapy. This can help those who live in isolated areas, are not able to attend therapy for financial reasons or those with mental health struggles that are so profound they do not feel comfortable seeking out the help of a professional in person.
But, beware! There are many more scam-artists out there that are just looking to fleece innocent people looking for help out of a buck (stay away from those who want to certify or register your pet!). Do your research thoroughly before settling on an online service, so that you obtain the legitimate letter that you’ve paid for.
What Information Does My ESA Letter Need?
A legitimate ESA letter needs to have specific information to be accepted. If your letter does not contain any of this information, you may be denied the rights that come with using an ESA. A bullet-proof ESA letter must contain:
- Your name
- That you have a disability as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders
- You are unable to perform at least one of the most important activities of your everyday life because of this disability
- The ESA is prescribed to you by a licensed mental health professional
- The Federal Regulations that protect you
Taking Your ESA Out in Public
Before committing to getting an ESA, you might want to know exactly where they can accompany you in public. The good news is that there are two laws protecting your rights on this – the Aircraft Carrier Access Act (ACA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
The ACA states you can fly with your ESA without discrimination. However, there is one caveat – airlines are able to dictate their own policy on what constitutes an ESA, and the conditions the passenger must meet to fly with them. Most airlines have changed or are in the process of changing their policy so that they only allow dogs and cats as ESAs on flights.
The FHA ensures that renters are able to keep their ESAs with them in a property and that a landlord may not discriminate or charge extra for an ESA.
Be aware that the spaces owned by private corporations reserve the right to allow or disallow ESAs at their own discretion – for example, stores can decide whether or not they allow ESAs inside.
For the low effort required, getting an emotional support animal is a really wonderful, long-term option for looking after your mental health. Not only will it ensure that you have a steady, supportive presence in your life, but it can also assist with mental health in a myriad of ways. You will not regret getting ESA!