If you struggle with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, or depression, you may have heard of emotional support animals as a part of your mental well-being plan. Emotional support animals have many benefits, from giving owners a sense of purpose to providing comfort when symptoms of their illness arise.
Emotional support animals (ESA) are different from ordinary pets in that they’re a part of a holistic approach to coping with mental or emotional disabilities. Not only can ESAs help save your mental health, but if you’re looking for leased or rental housing, legitimate emotional support animals can also save you extra pet fees.
We’re taking a closer look at how people with a diagnosed mental illness benefit from an emotional support animal and how ESA letters can help your wallet.
Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support animals are pets that alleviate symptoms of a mental or emotional disability and provide comfort in times of need with their presence. For example, someone with depression may struggle to accomplish daily tasks, from personal care and chores to even getting out of bed in the morning. Your ESA provides companionship that can help break any symptoms. In addition, the responsibility of taking care of an animal can give you purpose. Completing the care tasks for the animal provides a sense of accomplishment which can motivate you to complete other chores or work assignments.
For a person with an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), situational anxiety, or agoraphobia, the comfort ESAs provide can reduce both physical and emotional symptoms.
Petting a dog or a cat can reduce stress, lower your heart rate, and help you breathe deeper and easier, which, in turn, further reduces the physical expression of your anxiety.
If you suffer from a mental health disorder and would like to qualify for an Emotional Support Animal online, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a therapist who is licensed in your state. Click below to get started.
What Is an ESA Letter, and Why Would You Need One?
An ESA letter legitimizes your pet as integral to your mental well-being plan. ESA letters are written by a licensed mental health provider (LMHP) and have to contain elements such as:
- The healthcare professional’s signature (hand-written or digital signature)
- A statement that an ESA would alleviate symptoms of your mental health condition.
- The date the ESA letter was issued.
- The healthcare professional’s license number.
- The healthcare professional’s contact information.
Many leased properties may not permit pets or, if they do, may assess an additional pet deposit or higher monthly pet fees in addition to the regular rent. Many people may be unable to secure housing with these additional fees.
However, the U.S. Fair Housing Act (FHA) guarantees fair access to housing for people with a disability, and mental illness classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition that substantially limit one or more major life activities are considered to be a disability under the FHA. This means the landlord or property manager has to make reasonable accommodations for a potential tenant with a disability.
The Fair Housing Act allows an ESA to live in a pet-free rental house or apartment or waives the extra pet fees or pet deposits for tenants who have a legitimate emotional support animal. While you’ll save money on pet fees and a deposit, if your ESA causes damage to the rental property, your landlord can legally require you to pay for all damages.
Emotional Support Animal Warnings and Cautions
While your ESA has access privileges that other pets wouldn’t have in housing, an emotional support animal isn’t the same as a service animal, like a guide dog or a psychiatric service dog. Service dogs have additional legal protections that ESAs don’t have under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Service animals are specifically trained to complete certain tasks or perform certain services for their disabled owners. For emotional or mental disorders, a subcategory of service dogs, called psychiatric service dogs, are specifically trained to help their handler with their disability. They also have access to public places that ESAs do not.
If you are interested to know if your disability qualifies for a psychiatric service dog, we can connect you with a licensed healthcare provider so they may assist you and issue a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter for your records.
On the other hand, emotional support animals do not have specific training, although they do provide a significant service to their owners. To benefit from an ESA, you need to start with a conversation with your therapist, counselor, or other LMHP about how an animal companion will help your condition.
An ESA for mental health improvement isn’t simply owning a pet. The animal needs to have discernable benefits to you — and not everyone sees improvement in their symptoms with an ESA. Some people may have a negative experience with the ESA. Feeling overwhelmed with the care for the animal is common.
Pets can only be classified as emotional support animals if they are approved by your mental health provider. And you can only claim the access and benefits of an ESA with a legitimate ESA letter.
Be careful of fake ESA documents and scams on the internet, like:
- Free ESA letters provided through a website
- Registering the animal as an ESA (there is no ESA registration database)
- Vests that designate your pet as an ESA (these aren’t required for ESAs)
Only a letter signed by your LMHP will allow your pet to be considered an ESA and allow you access to certain housing and travel options. If you present a fake ESA letter or certification to your landlord, you could be in a lot of hot water — you may lose your housing because and even be fined if you presented a fraudulent letter.
ESA Doctors Help You Obtain a Legitimate ESA Letter
If you think that you can benefit from an emotional support animal to deal with your mental health concerns, we can help. ESA Doctors can connect you with licensed mental health providers in your state, who can help explore how an ESA may help. And if approved, they will provide a legitimate ESA letter for housing.