Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that animals are often our best source of comfort when we are feeling down or unwell. For people who struggle with emotional or mental illnesses or disabilities, emotional support animals provide much-needed companionship, comfort, security, and love. Animals have a remarkable way of making us feel better, and emotional support animals truly do provide emotional support to the people who need it most.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

There is some confusion surrounding what an emotional support animal, or ESA, is and is not. By definition, an ESA is an animal that provides therapeutic benefits and helps alleviate the symptoms their handlers experience due to a mental or emotional disability. They require minimal training, and, unlike service dogs, they do not need to perform a specific task to help their handlers.

The most important job of an emotional support animal is to provide companionship and comfort to its owner to make it easier to accomplish one or more major life activities, including caring for oneself, working, performing manual tasks, sleeping, walking, and numerous other activities. Emotional support animals are commonly prescribed to persons struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, etc.

Who Qualifies for Emotional Support Animals?

Roughly 18% of American adults live with some type of emotional or mental disability, many of whom could benefit from owning an emotional support animal. Unfortunately, many of them do not realize that they may qualify for one. Mental health professionals prescribe ESAs to people living with a wide variety of disabilities and illnesses. In addition to helping people with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, emotional support animals can help people of all ages who struggle with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.

Emotional support animal letters are provided by licensed mental health workers and other medical professionals. The letter indicates that the patient is limited by their disability and requires an emotional support animal as part of their treatment.

How Emotional Support Animals Provide Emotional Support

Emotional support animals provide emotional support simply by being there for their handlers. They provide unconditional love, and just spending time with a loyal companion can really make someone who suffers from a mental disorder feel better. They also create a sense of purpose and responsibility. Feeding, talking, bathing, and taking care of an animal can make a person feel valuable and important. This can be extremely helpful for people who struggle with depression and may not feel a great sense of self-worth on their own. Because they need to be taken care of, animals also help keep their owners more active. It’s nearly impossible to spend all day curled up in bed when there is a furry companion relying on you to provide for their every need.

While they can’t talk back, emotional support animals are great listeners. They are never too busy to lend an ear when their owners need them, and they never judge. They’re also great at keeping secrets, so they act at furry therapists that people can talk to about absolutely anything. Having another living being to confide in – even in that being isn’t human – helps people work through their problems. It also helps alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolation that many people who struggle with depression and other mental health problems experience.

Talking with a therapist or counselor is beneficial and highly recommended for people who have mental and emotional illnesses and disabilities. Those people aren’t always available, though. With an emotional support animal, you always have someone by your side that you can talk to at any time of the day or night. There is no waiting room or expensive co-pay to worry about – just a loving companion who will always be there to provide a shoulder to cry on when you need it most.

Emotional support animals provide support when their handlers must face difficult situations. If anxiety prevents you from traveling, for example, an ESA can provide the comfort you need to make it through a long flight. They help their owners feel more confident in anxiety-inducing situations, and they can even make it easier to meet new people. For people with mental or emotional disabilities or illnesses, emotional support animals help provide the support they need to live full, independent lives.

We’ve probably all seen a service dog helping to guide a person that is physically challenged but did you know you can also have a service dog if you suffer from anxiety?

Dogs can be especially helpful to those that suffer from any number of mental or emotional issues such as PTSD or social anxiety. However, unlike a service dog that has been trained by professionals to work with their owner, you can train your own dog to help you cope with your emotional trauma. Here are some basic steps on how to train a service dog for anxiety.

Step #1 – Choosing the Right Service Dog

It is highly recommended to start out with the right breed for being a service dog. Some canines just do not exhibit the right temperament to do this important and demanding job.

To ensure you are getting a pup that can be trained for service, it’s advised to look to those reputable breeders that are raising dogs for this specific purpose. You can also find great service dog candidates at your local shelters too!

According to Psychiatric Service Dog Partners when choosing a puppy for service work, look for these qualities;

Social – quick to greet Does not startle easily Follows Eager to be held Alert Step #2 – Determine the Service Dog’s Job 

Once you have your puppy you must determine what you will need the dog to do for you in order to guide its training. Once this is established you can begin bonding with your puppy. This helps create a baseline for your dog to recognize when you are in a relaxed state and when you are beginning to experience anxiety – dogs are very intuitive so the right dog will pick up on this naturally.

Step #3 – Develop Socialization Skills

Reputable breeders will have already started the socialization process with their puppies. This means the puppy has been handled extensively, been introduced to new people and new situations as well as being taken outside of the home.

When you get your puppy, it’s important that you keep up the socialization. The last thing you want is a dog that is frightened or stressed each time it encounters something new.

Step #4 – Start Basic Training Skills

All dogs should have the basics of training and good behavior, but it is doubly important if you plan to bring your dog with you into public areas. These skills include;

Sit Stay Drop Heel Leave Come

If you feel you cannot teach your canine companion the basic obedience skills needed, then enlist the help of a professional trainer. These people have the knowledge to, not only teach your dog, but also teach you how to continue the training outside of the weekly sessions.

Step #5 – Fine Tune Public Access Skills

Once your service dog-in-training has mastered his/her basic commands, then you can begin to work on public access skills. Use those pet-friendly areas like retail pet stores, outdoor cafes etc. to help your dog become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of public places.

Step #6 – Individual Response Training

It may be difficult to train a dog to alert a person before a panic attack, but with a close bond, your dog may pick up on your different body language and, if you are completely fear-stricken, the chemical changes in your body.

Some people who suffer from anxiety and stress have reported that giving the puppy/dog a treat when they are experiencing the symptoms is a helpful way to teach your dog to respond; however, not everyone is capable of this type of action when in the midst of anxiety, stress or fear.

Cuddling your dog close when you feel stressed is not only a great way to help bring relief to you, but will also allow the dog the chance to pick up on your “tell” signs. This is why it is crucial to find the right breed and/or temperament of your canine service dog.

Training a Service Dog for Anxiety

When training a service dog for anxiety you will have to have patience and persistence, especially with puppies. Begin with the basic training skills and socialization, then work your dog up for public access. Having a dog that helps with severe anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks and so on is a therapeutic way to get your life back on track.

Dogs have historically performed all manner of tasks to assist humans in a variety of situations. For centuries farmers have used the intelligent and energetic nature of Border Collies to help them round up their livestock. Dogs are also incredibly useful in the treatment and therapy of various disabilities, both physical and mental. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the use of a specially trained dog to lead and assist its blind owner. However, dogs can be prescribed and recommended to patients to help treat their psychological disorders. There is often much confusion between the categories they fall under – Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. What are they exactly, and what are their differences?

If both categories are specifically aimed at alleviating the symptoms associated with various psychological disorders, how can they be differentiated? This question has led to many heated debates and confusion as to the rights of their owners and where the can and cannot bring their animals.

They both help to improve the mental health of their owners

As both Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals are both provided to individuals to assist them in some way with psychological issues, it is easy to understand why some people may not understand the differences between them.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Dogs are commonly used to assist physically disabled people with everyday tasks, making their lives much easier than if they didn’t have them to help. These dogs are specifically trained to perform their designated tasks and behave considerably much better than typical pet dogs. All Service Dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allowing them to be exempt from most pet-related restrictions such as housing providers with a ‘no pet’ policy. This doesn’t apply only to physical disabilities, but to psychiatric disabilities as well. Psychiatric Service Dogs are therefore used by individuals whose mental impairment is so severe that it affects their ability to perform everyday tasks.

An example of this would be a mentally disabled person with a tendency to wander off in any direction when disoriented – a Psychiatric Service Dog would be trained and assigned to the individual to prevent them from walking onto busy roads.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

While serving a similar service, Emotional Support Animals assist their owners as a part of their treatment plan. They do not assist individuals with everyday tasks, but rather they provide emotional comfort and help to improve the symptoms of certain psychological disorders.

The only physical aspect an Emotional Support Animal might provide, in contrast to a Service Animal, is that they may provide physical affection on command, or respond to playful activities. Emotional support animals do not have the same level of access as service dogs and are only allowed in planes for travel and in homes that normally do not allow pets

How to get an ESA Letter Online

Federal Law sees both categories very differently

In the eyes of the law, it is only Service Dogs that are exempt from public restrictions for animals. For example, in usual circumstances, people are not allowed to bring their pets on board when flying on commercial airlines – they must transport them separately. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates that disabled individuals may travel with their certified Service Animals.

As Emotional Service Animals are merely assigned to people undergoing a therapeutic treatment plan or to provide emotional stability, and are not specially trained or certified, the ADA does not recognize them as a physical necessity. Therefore, Emotional Support Animals and their owners do not have the same overall rights as Psychiatric Service Dogs, although there are some exemptions.

While Psychiatric Service Animals may accompany their owners in public accommodation such as hotels, Emotional Support Animals may not. However, there are certain exceptions regarding private accommodation.

Many landlords and housing providers may often have a ‘no pets’ policy within their accommodation, but these policies can often be bypassed when it comes to Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals due to their prescribed therapeutic assistance to their owners.

Psychiatric Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals serve similar purposes, but have very different rights

While both Psychiatric Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are prescribed to their owners to assist them with mental impairments, it is apparent that they are designated to serve different purposes. Individuals who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that is severe enough to impair their daily functioning will typically be assigned a Psychiatric Service Animal to assist them in their day to day activities, and are recognized by the ADA. By contrast, Emotional Support Animals do provide their owners psychological stability and therapy, but are not recognized by the ADA and therefore do not have as many rights under Federal Law.