Blog #4: Do emotional support animals work as well or better than other methods of mental health treatments?

My inquiry question: How does a pet impact and benefit an individual’s mental health?

Do emotional support animals work as well or better than other methods of mental health treatments

What is an ESA

ESA stands for emotional support animal & can also be called an assistance animal. (1) ESAs have been growing in popularity as a different option from therapy or other forms of mental health treatments. (3) Unlike service animals, ESAs do not perform specific tasks. (2) Their presence relieves symptoms associated with an individual’s mental health conditions. (2) An emotional support animal is an animal with the role of providing comfort, support, security & companionship for individuals suffering from mental illnesses. (1) They can provide the same role for individuals experiencing physical disabilities, similar to a service animal. (1) These may include health issues such as panic attacks, chronic pain, anxiety & depression. (1) In Canada it is quite easy to certify your pet as an ESA. All that is required is an emotional support letter provided through a licensed mental health professional. (4) The letter must disclose the information about the individual’s role as an owner & why they require an emotional support animal. (4) Some of the most common types of ESAs are dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters & pigs. (1) Some of the most unusual types of ESA are ducks, turkeys, monkeys & miniature horses. (3)

  Pin on Animals

How emotional support animals benefit an individual’s mental health

Emotional support animals are known to have many benefits for individuals who feel that an ESA may be their only option. This raises the question of who can have an ESA. Everyone can have an emotional support animal but most notably here are the most common individuals who have one. Teens with mental health issues, psychiatric patients, university students, war veterans & even prison inmates. (6) ESAs can have many positive benefits in an individual’s life. These benefits include alleviating loneliness, reducing mental & physical pain, reducing stress, increasing joy, and lowering heart rate & blood pressure. (7) Specific benefits an ESA can provide for an individual are: 

  • Decreased anxiety: an ESA can provide relaxation & support by reducing anxiety. (3) 
  • Social support: an ESA can act as a social companion by meeting their emotional & mental health needs, especially when an individual feels alone. (6) 
  • Trauma support: for individuals who have experienced trauma an ESAs can support them through their healing. (3) 
  • Unconditional love: ESAs can give you a sense of purpose & provide unconditional love even during your difficult times. 6) 
  • Stabilizing intense emotions: no matter your intense feelings, spending time with your ESA can reduce your worries, ease your pain & calm you down. (6) 

    emotional support dog guide

    How emotional support animals differ from other forms of mental health treatments

    Different people require different types of support. For some, treatments such as therapy, counselling or medications are not effective. It may even be more anxiety inducing to try these new treatments. Opening up to someone like a therapist or a counselor may be difficult for many. Additionally these treatments are very costly. Medication is expensive especially without insurance and counselling can be costly depending on how many sessions you attend & where you go. (9) A healthcare professional can’t be with you 24/7. Once an indiviuals done their therapy session & comes home they no longer feel that they have support of someone to talk to. (9) Medications may also come with side effects that can be difficult for some people. (9) The most common mental health medication side effects include headaches, nausea, constipation, dry mouth & muscle spasms. (10) Research discovered that ESAs increase oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the  “feel good” chemical in the human brain. ESAs can be a big part of our mental health treatment plans especially because solely one form of mental health treatment alone could not be enough depening on the person. (9)



    2 Replies to “Blog #4: Do emotional support animals work as well or better than other methods of mental health treatments?”

    1. Hi Itzelcuriel,

      I enjoyed reading your post because I learned a lot about the definition of ESA, who needs ESAs, what type of pets are part of the ESA group and why it may work better than other counselling or medications. I love how you researched this project because I never heard about this topic elsewhere. During my childhood, I believed that the only mental health resource was therapy, medications or counselling. I am glad that you taught me another mental health resource. Some questions I have for you are: how come schools don’t use ESAs? Why would someone prefer medications, therapy and counselling over ESAs? How do animals communicate with humans other than through their presence? Some resources that may deepen your research are:

      Keep up the excellent work!

    2. Hi Itzelcuriel,
      This is an interesting topic. I am looking forward to learning more about ESA.
      Thank you for informing others about mental health especially now that cases of mental health among student is on the rise and society doesn’t take mental health as seriously as other medical conditions.
      I strongly agree with you on having the option of different forms of mental health treatment.
      Yesterday CNN addressed an article about research done on US teens’ mental health and development before and after the pandemic take a look here

    Leave a Reply