For many of us, 2020 has taken a heavy toll on mental health. The pandemic, which has isolated us like no other time in our lives, has highlighted the importance of intimate connections with others and accessible mental health services. Just when it was needed the most, the option to seek help from mental health professionals in person was cut off for people around the world as lockdowns took effect.
If there is one silver lining this year, however, it may be the growth and potentially permanent acceptance of telemedicine services. In a year where human interactions like after-work drinks, weddings, and birthdays were conducted virtually, therapy and health services were no exception. 2020 was also a year that saw record numbers of adopted pets. For many people, an animal companion provides a safe haven of stability and comfort during difficult times.
If you rely on a pet to cope with emotional distress or mental health issues or are you’re planning to adopt a pet for that purpose, this article can help you navigate the world of emotional support animals and telehealth. We’ll discuss what ESAs are and how telehealth services can help you qualify for one without having to leave your home.
If you are ready to connect online with a licensed health professional for an ESA letter, click on the link below to get started.
Table of Contents
- What Are Online Mental Health Services?
- What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
- Can You Legally Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal Using Telehealth Services?
- Who Is a Good Candidate for an Online ESA Assessment?
- Where to Go Online for an ESA Therapist?
What Are Online Mental Health Services?
Online or remote therapists are licensed professionals who offer their mental health services through online platforms. Some health issues like physical ailments that require touching, probing, testing, and scans can be challenging to accommodate virtually. However, mental health services frequently rely more on written and verbal interactions can often be effectively carried out online.
The use of telehealth or telemedicine has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association showed that prior to the spread of COVID-19, 64% of psychiatrists never used virtual sessions. After the pandemic spread, that figure dropped to just 1.9%. When the pandemic eventually subsides, it appears likely that telemedicine services will maintain their foothold and continue to thrive.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal under federal housing and air travel laws. ESAs are animals that provide support for mental and emotional health issues. Unlike service dogs, they do not require specialized training. ESAs are usually dogs and cats but are also commonly other types of small domesticated pets like rabbits, fish, hamsters, and iguanas.
ESA owners have special rights under federal laws that protect their right to be accompanied by their animals in housing and on flights. Fair Housing laws protect ESA owners from being unfairly discriminated against by their housing provider. For example, residents have the right to live with their ESAs in buildings that ban all pets, free of pet deposits and other pet fees. ESAs are also exempt from pet restrictions, such as rules regarding breed and size, which may be imposed by an HOA, co-op, or landlord. ESA owners also have the right to travel with their animals in airplane cabins under the Air Carrier Access Act, free of charge.
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need a letter of recommendation from a licensed health care professional.
Can You Legally Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal Using Telehealth Services?
An ESA recommendation letter must come from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a:
- licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT)
- licensed clinical social workers (LCSW)
- medical doctor
In order to issue an ESA letter to you, the professional must assess your mental and emotional health and determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements for an emotional support animal.
Generally speaking, to qualify for an emotional support animal, you must suffer from a condition like depression or anxiety that substantially limits one more major life activities. The professional must also determine that an emotional support animal would help alleviate symptoms that arise out of that condition.
With most people during COVID-19 lockdowns seeing their mental health professional virtually, the question has been raised regarding whether you can obtain an ESA letter through an online provider. In a prescient move, the U.S. Department of Housing actually addressed this issue in their latest ESA guidance issued in January 2020. Under HUD’s guidelines, an ESA letter can indeed legally come from an online healthcare professional that works remotely.
Who Is a Good Candidate for an Online ESA Assessment?
If you already have a relationship with a mental health professional, that is probably the best place to turn for help if you are interested in an ESA. Being evaluated for an emotional support animal online can be useful for the following people:
- Individuals with difficult schedules who also want to avoid traveling to and from offices.
- Individuals who have phobias or anxiety about revealing their mental health issues in-person.
- Individuals who do not have the financial means to pay for in-person services.
- Individuals with mobility issues who have trouble leaving home.
- Individuals who already visit a healthcare professional who is unfamiliar with or unwilling to issue an ESA letter.
- Individuals who prefer using the internet as a frontline resource versus making telephone calls and in-person visits.
Online services have made mental health resources as accessible as ever. Anyone interested in seeing if they qualify for an emotional support animal can be a good candidate to utilize telehealth services for an assessment.
Where to Go Online for an ESA Therapist?
HUD’s guidance from January 2020 indicated that online professionals could issue ESA letters and warned ESA owners against using websites that sell certifications and registrations that confer no legal rights. A reputable telehealth ESA service provider should connect you with a licensed healthcare professional that has the ability to assess you for an ESA and write a proper ESA letter if you qualify.
ESA Doctors only works with licensed professionals who are knowledgeable about emotional support animals and capable of determining whether an ESA is right for you. These healthcare professionals offer their services remotely so that the entire process can be completed from the safety of your home, without any office visits.
ESA Doctors will be there to provide you with helpful information and support so you can confidently use your ESA letter for housing and air travel. If you’re ready to get started, click on the link below.