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Emotional support animals, or ESAs for short, have been taking the country by force in the last three years or so. Despite this, many people who still don’t know what exactly they do, much less if they’re entitled to one or not. ESAs are designed to support the treatment of patients suffering from a wide variety of mental illnesses, with some of the most common being depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. They support their owner by being present and available to them at all times. The process of how to qualify for an emotional support animal is surprisingly easy. Thousands of first-hand accounts testify to their positive effect on mental health disorders. Yet, many people see ESAs as some kind of fad or phase, the latest in a long line of tentative mental health treatments. In fact, emotional support animals are hugely important.

It’s certainly true that a mental health disorder can be a particularly challenging diagnosis to overcome, with no one treatment being 100% effective. In many instances, it’s dependent on the patient, and doctors operate on a case-by-case basis. However, ESAs have been proven to have a positive effect, not only in one area, but over a wide variety of mental health disorders. Unlike service dogs or therapy dogs, emotional support animals can be any species of pet, as long as they provide the comfort and support required to ease the symptoms of their owner. In this way, there are many types of emotional support animals and choices for patients who wish to avail of their benefits, dependent on the condition the patient is suffering from. It’s not a case of one animal being designated for each disorder, but there certainly are patterns of benefit that are common to some species. For example, the best pets for depression are usually dogs, while the best emotional support animals for anxiety are uniformly cats.

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ESAs can be any species of animal.

These aren’t rules or strictures, however; ultimately, it’s the patient’s decision. Doctors will not provide specific ESA requirements to their patient; they will simply issue them with an ESA letter. This important document, also known as an emotional support letter, qualifies the patient for an ESA, and confirms they are suffering from a diagnosed mental health disorder. A legitimate ESA letter can be obtained from any licenced medical professional, either in person or online. In fact, the new wave of telemedicine is allowing many potential ESA owners to avail of this new form of treatment from the comfort of their homes. Telemedicine allows patients to connect with their doctors over their digital devices, making communication easier, faster, and more cost-effective.

The popularity of emotional support animals can also be attributed to society as a whole becoming more cognizant of mental health issues. They have certainly always been there, but they just haven’t been treated with the right respect and attention as they have been over the last ten years or so. As mental health comes more and more to the fore, the focus on potential treatments and therapies will become sharper. This is what we see with ESAs. And although it certainly is a trend, you couldn’t write it off as a fad. People previously suffering in silence can now see a way forward, and can avail of long-term treatment plans like emotional support animals. As the years go on, it’s probable that ESAs will become more and more popular as a viable treatment plan.

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The dangers in the ESA trend lie in people who attempt to abuse the system.

The dangers in the ESA trend lie in people who attempt to abuse the system to avail of the benefits without actually suffering from a mental health disorder. ESAs are allowed to travel on planes, and they are also allowed to accompany their owners into rented accommodation, the majority of which is forbidden to normal pets. If you have a pet that you’d like to bring on a plane for free, obviously some people are going to falsify conditions in order to avail of the perks. This is obviously a dangerous and selfish abuse of the system. It simultaneously deligitimzes the thousands upon thousands of genuine ESA owners, while also giving emotional support animals a bad name in general.

In order for the ESA treatment plan to move forward, it’s crucial that sharp lines are drawn between the majority of genuine sufferers who benefit immensely from their pets, and the minority who are out to abuse the law. It’s these abusers who engender the viewpoint that ESAs are merely a fad among the general population. Many airlines have already tightened the rules when it comes to ESAs, and it’s unknown what 2019 will bring, as emotional support animal usage looks set to increase all over the country. It is extremely important to underline that ESAs are not simply a fad. They do provide a critically valuable service for mental health patients all over the country. The best thing we can collectively do is to support their surge in popularity, and know that it is helping many in their ongoing mental health struggles.

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