There is a lot of confusion and misinformation in today’s society about mental health and mental health disorders, but when looking at statistics, the numbers are alarming.

Consider for a moment that:

  • One out of seven U.S. children aged 2 to 8 years had been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
  • An estimated one in four (26%) American adults live with a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder affects 7.7 million U.S. adults, or 3.5% of the population.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States every year.

One thing that has helped those with mental disorders tremendously are emotional support animals or ESAs.

An emotional support animal is any animal that helps its owner in dealing with or overcoming a specific disability. This is different from a service dog because an ESA is not trained to offer specific assistance to accommodate a disability.

If you’re looking into getting an ESA, here are five benefits they provide.

  • Calm on planes: In 2015, a major airline carried more than 24,000 emotional support animals, according to the International Air Travel Association. For people diagnosed with a mental disorder, having their ESA with them during a flight can be invaluable. For many people, traveling, whether by plane or some other means, isn’t an easy experience. Having an ESA helps a person stay focused on their pet and not on anxiety about flying.
  • Unconditional love: Whether you’ve got a regular pet or an ESA, one of the biggest benefits to having a pet is unconditional love. In fact, 74% of those surveyed reported mental health improvements from keeping animals as companions. Having the unconditional love of a pet can help individuals feel love where they might have a hard time finding it otherwise from family, friends, etc.
  • Pairing With Other Treatment: Another benefit of ESAs is that they can be integrated with certain treatment models. For whatever treatment plan a person has for their disorder, they may be able to incorporate a pet. One example is using the pet within the Trauma Resiliency Model, which helps people bring themselves down from emotional highs or lows.
  • Regulating feelings: Depending on your diagnosis, dealing with a disorder, day-to-day, even moment-to-moment can be very difficult. An emotional support animal can be there to help a person regulate their emotions whether it’s reducing anxiety or improving one’s mood. A pet is in need of constant attention and having it there can cause a person’s feelings to stabilize if they’re focusing their attention on their pet.
  • Chemical benefits: Having a pet, especially a dog, leads to increased levels of dopamine, which produces good feelings.

If you’ve got an emotional support animal, there will be some training required. When it comes to ESA training, like a dog for example, training is much like it is for a normal dog, but there are some differences:

  • For starters, an ES dog has to be a bit more well-behaved than your everyday house dog.
  • An ESA dog also has to be properly toilet trained. If you fly with your pet, that means it’s flying with you uncaged and in public, in a manner of speaking. Since the dog is able to do this, it must know that it can’t go the bathroom on the plane.
  • ESA dogs must be trained to eliminate excessive barking. As with any pet, it can be hard for dogs to be away from their owners and they may susceptible to excessive barking. Even if you’ve got an ESA letter giving you the right to have an ESA dog, excessive barking won’t be tolerated much by those you encounter in public or perhaps by a landlord if you live in an apartment complex.
    Squeaky toys and quiet commands are good ways to cut down on excessive barking.
  • ESA dogs can’t be aggressive. This is perhaps the most important part of training. A good-natured dog will make everyday life a lot easier. If your ESA dog is too aggressive or violent, there is a chance it may be put down, even though you have rights under the ADA.
    A professional dog trainer can be of great benefit when it comes to ESA dog training and teaching proper behavior, depending on what type of training your ESA dog needs.

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