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What Are the Mental Health Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Animal?

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For thousands of years, people around the globe have found mental and emotional support from animals. If you have a pet, you know how you can feel calmer when stroking your cat or how seeing your puppy makes you smile at the end of a stressful day.

Most of us have experienced the comfort that an animal provides at some point in our lives. However, some people truly need the support of an animal just to get through their day. In the United States, an emotional support animal is described as an animal that that provides a positive benefit to a person who is dealing with one or more disabilities. These mental, physical or emotional disabilities must be noted by a physician in order for the emotional support animal to be recognized by law.

If you are not familiar with the mental health benefits that an emotional support animal offers, read on to discover some of the most important advantages.

Reduced Loneliness

Dealing with mental illness or cognitive impairments can be very isolating. Often, people who are dealing with these types of issues have trouble functioning in public and in social settings. Since they feel uncomfortable and insecure, they isolate themselves. Unfortunately, isolation exacerbates their mental health symptoms, and the cycle continues.

Having an emotional support animal has been proven to reduce these dangerous feelings of loneliness and isolation. First, the animal simply provides companionship. The patient no longer has to go about their day completely by themselves, and the presence of a well-trained animal is very comforting.

In addition, having an animal also increases changes for socialization. Dogs love to go on walks, and the owner can interact with other people while taking a walk or visiting a park. This helps her make meaningful connections with others and continue to develop social skills.

Calming Effects

One of the most common complaints of those who are dealing with mental instability is panic. When you feel like you cannot trust your own brain, it’s easy to panic and deal with feelings of severe anxiety. Over time, this anxiety can be debilitating.

Having an emotional support animal nearby counteracts the effects of anxiety. Studies have shown that stress levels decrease when a person is interacting with a trusted animal. When stress levels go down, anxiety lessens, which has numerous physical and mental benefits.

Physical Benefits

Although the mental health benefits of having an emotional support animal are numerous, there are also exciting physical benefits that should be discussed. Having a pet can give those who are dealing with illness a reason to get up and exercise. Whether it’s taking a walk around the block or even just playing out in the yard, getting outdoors and being active has positive mental and physical effects.

When mental symptoms such as stress and anxiety are decreased, the body responds in a positive manner. Poor mental health affects so many areas of the body, but having an emotional support animal can provide a solution for some of the most common problems.

Some of the positive physical effects of owning an emotional support animal include:

Increased physical activity
Lower trigyceride levels
Lower cholesterol
Lower blood pressure
Where to Start

If you believe that you or someone you love could benefit from an emotional support animal, gathering information is a great place to start. Most emotional support animals are dogs, but cats and other animals can also fill the role.

First, keep in mind that a person must have a documented, verifiable disability in order to receive accommodations from an emotional support animal. A medical doctor must make this determination. In the United States, the definitions of disabilities are given under federal law, so you must fit this criteria to take advantage of this protection. Although many people find the presence of an animal helpful, not all people who have a mental illness will qualify for an emotional support animal.

Unlike official service animals, a pet does not have to have any official training to be an emotional support animal. Some people choose to use a pet that has already been with them for years, while others select a pet specifically for this purpose. If you are looking to get a new emotional support animal, pay special attention to temperament. Look for a pet who shows intelligence, calmness and loyalty. It’s also important to note that your new pet will need care, so be sure that you are physically and mentally able to provide the attention that they need.

There are many details regarding where accommodations must be given for service animals and emotional support animals. Find out the specifics regarding your situation by reading the stipulations given in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

Many people who are suffering from mental illness have found that having an emotional support animal empowers them and supports their healing. Whether you choose to adopt a pet or ask for accommodations for an emotional support animal, you can take advantage of many of these benefits.