Understanding the DSM 5 and Emotional Support Animals

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: December 21, 2023

Hundreds of psychiatrists have written this book on mental health disorders. Quite literally. It’s called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but you probably know it as DSM 5. Health professionals from all over the world use this manual. It contains guidelines for licensed mental health professionals about symptoms and diagnosis of mental illnesses. It’s crucial to getting quality psychiatric help—and an emotional support animal by your side!

What Is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

This hunk of a book has detailed information about all mental disorders we know of today. Thousands of scientists from the American Psychiatric Association were in charge of putting it together. In the end, it cost almost $25 million.

When you open it, you’ll find three main sections. The first is a long list of disorders; a sort of classification of diseases of the mind. The second is “Diagnostic Criteria.” It details all the symptoms for each disorder. Lastly, there’s a long text introduction to each disorder.

Mental Illnesses Diagnosis: The Ins and Outs of DSM 5

Did you know the DSM 5 lists approximately 297 mental disorders? This long list was the result of almost 14 years of research and review. It breaks away from the DSM-IV criteria, now that we understand the human mind better.

You’ll find a diagnosis for the following mental health disorders in this version of the DSM:

  • Intellectual Disability
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Dysregulation Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Somatic Symptom Disorder
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)

Most famously, the DSM 5 corrected some classifications that appeared in its previous edition. For starters, Gender Identity Disorder got a new label and is no longer seen as a pathology. Autistic Disorder and Asperger’s Disorder (or Asperger’s Syndrome) are old labels for what the DSM 5 calls Autism Spectrum Disorder. Before, they were lumped under the Pervasive Developmental Disorder name.

On top of that, Neurocognitive Disorders refer to a wealth of mental illnesses. On that note, dementia was also studied again and shows up in this edition in a different light.

Mental Illnesses Are More Common than You Think! A Look at the Numbers

How many Americans do you think live with a mental illness today? Around 46.7 million people! That’s almost 15% of the population. Mental health disorders should not be a taboo topic when so many of us cope with them.

We’ve listed some of the most common diagnosis below. But aside from those, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Eating Disorder also tend to crop up frequently.

DSM 5 Depression: Major Depressive Disorder DSM 5

Major Depressive Disorder is the clinical term for what we usually call “depression.” People with this disorder can suffer from a major depressive episode on a regular basis.

Many people think depression and sadness are the same. They are not. Depression doesn’t just “keep you in the dumps” for a day or two. It’s a near-constant state of being, which leaves you drained and unable to enjoy even your favorite things. That’s why it’s treated as one of many mental health disorders.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is usually associated with soldiers and war veterans. But they’re not the only ones diagnosed with this illness. Witnesses of trauma (rape, childhood abuse, war, and so one) often live with PTSD for most of their lives. It can trigger stressful nightmares, flashbacks, unwanted memories, and put a stop on normal day-to-day life.

Borderline Personality Disorder

This is one of the several personality disorders in the DSM 5. Unlike Bipolar Disorder, it’s not a mood disorder listed in the book. The psychiatric diagnosis points to nine symptoms. They include “black-and-white” thinking, impulsiveness, uncontrollable emotions, dissociation, manic episode frequency, and so on.

Adjustment Disorder DSM 5

This isn’t actually a disorder, but a group of symptoms due to fatigue, stress, and intense sadness. They’re usually related to traumatic life events. More often than not, the response to this tragic event gets from a patient with Adjustment Disorder is stronger than expected.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder DSM 5th Edition

The DSM 5 also lists Generalized Anxiety Disorder as one of its mental disorders. Many people receive treatment for this disorder as it is incredibly common. While panic attacks aren’t one of the symptoms, fatigue, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping are.

Emotional Support Animals Help People with Diagnosed Mental Illnesses!

You may be wondering why emotional support animals are so important. Why do they have the right to fly and live with their owners for free? Well, they’re a crucial part of their owner’s therapy.

ESAs offer love and support every hour of the day and night. By keeping their owner company, they make them feel less alone and vulnerable. Which is something they need! There are several studies showing that this close bond helps humans. With an ESA by your side, you will better cope with your disorder and live a happier life.

To Get an ESA, You must have a condition that limits a regular life activity.

As we’ve mentioned, only someone who has a condition where a regular life activity is impaired due to their symptoms can have an ESA. It’s the law. So, before calling your pet an ESA (which is wrong!), you need to be assessed for those conditions. Only a licensed mental health professional in your state can do this, so you’ll need an appointment with one.

The Next Step: Find a LMHP and Get Your Emotional Support Animal Letter

Once you have identified your symptoms with your clinician, it’s time to get an emotional support animal letter and treatment plan. Without this important document, Fido or Mittens will only count as pets, in the eyes of the law. When you have an ESA, you prove your four-legged companion is an assistance animal and has rights.

How CertaPet Helps People Connect with LMHP and Get Their ESA Letters!

We’re all for cutting down on bureaucracy and making things convenient. That’s why we connect people with a licensed mental health professional in their state in a few easy steps. We provide the opportunity of talking to a mental health professional online, from the comfort of your own home. This is the first step in getting a cute ESA by your side.

To get started, take our 5-minute pre-screening test for free. Then, we’ll connect you to your therapist and it’ll be smooth sailing from there. If you get diagnosed, you’ll get your ESA letter. Straightforward, right?

Common Questions on the DSM 5

Are all mental illnesses in the DSM 5?

How does the DSM 5 work?

Is an emotional support animal a pet?

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