October 9


How Emotional Support Animals Impact Our Mental and Emotional Health

By Kathryn Anderson

October 9, 2020

With a surge of mental illness in the world today, many people are trying to find daily relief for their symptoms.

Part of your treatment can come in the form of a four-legged furball.

Emotional support animals are on the rise, hugely prevalent in the United States. While much of the public is still coming to terms with animals onboard flights or in shared housing, the fact of the matter is that these companion animals supports the healing of a great portion of the 61.4 million Americans who struggle with mental health disabilities every day.

The Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States

As 2020 threw a new level of stress, shock, and anxiety into our already not-so-perfect world, it’s understandable that mental illness has soared.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of Americans have accused the crisis of harming their mental health. Health workers now have increased anxiety levels, and even those who have managed to keep their jobs burn out at their home office. Not to mention the masses who have faced job loss, salary cuts, or loss of loved ones.

More and more people are facing depression, anxiety, insomnia, and psychological distress. In fact, researchers from the CDC found that reports of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation were significantly increased following the outbreak of COVID-19 when compared with 2019. Mental Health America additionally found that over 10.3 million adults in the United States have serious suicidal thoughts, and the numbers are climbing each year.

A huge problem in the country is that many people do not have medical aid coverage to receive appropriate treatment for their mental health. In fact, MHA reported that over 10 million adults have an unmet need for mental health care. While this issue needs to be addressed from the top, accessing an Emotional Support Animal letter is affordable and straightforward, as is adopting a furry friend who can become a part of a person’s treatment.

mental health in the US

How Emotional Support Animals Are Making a Difference 

Are animals the missing link to mental health treatment?

You cannot deny that watching cats bounce away from a cucumber makes you feel better. Many will admit that cuddling up to their pet has therapeutic values, and studies on the health benefits of animals as well as surveys on the health benefits of an animal’s companionship will agree. While medication and supportive therapy are needed, adding an affection companion animal into the equation can boost social recognition, aiding in the release of oxytocin, combining to give one a feeling of belonging and protecting against anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

Stories of how emotional support animals have improved the lives of their humans are uplifting. Last year, the San Francisco 49ers got their very own mood-boosting pup and officiated her as their emotional support animal. The French Bulldog, called Zoe, boosts the team’s morale between tough days on the NFL fields.

Beyond easing the stress of the day and helping get your mind off your troubles, companion animals can help improve your sleep and even prolong your life.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal? 

In a Perceptions of Service Animals survey with 992 people, 90.8% of people who applied for an ESA letter struggled with anxiety.

Following at 72.4%, participants with depression found relief by having a pet at their side.

There is no doubt that your furry companion can be a part of your wellness plan.

Other afflictions that are eased by the doting affection of a pet include:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • fear/phobias
  • panic disorder/panic attacks
  • mood disorders
  • personality disorders
  • seasonal affective disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • loneliness
  • suicidal thoughts
  • chronic pain

Other illnesses eased by pets included Asperger’s, autism, migraine, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, OCD, ADHD, and neural cardiovascular illnesses.

why people need emotional support animals

Important Findings from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute

Many helpful studies emphasize the benefits of having a companion animal.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute is an organization that has displayed evidence in support of animal companions as part of a person’s treatment.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is a non-profit research and education organization. They work to gather, fund, and share scientific research that shows the positive impact of companion animals on humans’ lives and health.

They believe in the human-animal bond as a vital part of society due to the health benefits of animals’ therapeutic relationship. The HABRI is supported by numerous organizations and individuals and is the primary source for all information on connections between animals and humans. This has proved to be a helpful source for advocates for emotional support and therapy animals.

A Recent Study

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute recently partnered with Cohen Research Group to perform an online survey. The survey questioned participants on their perceived benefits of having a pet and how the relationship with their companion animal benefited their wellness, especially when it came to their mental wellbeing.

The Participants

The online survey for the HABRI gathered the opinions of 2000 pet owners and their dogs.

The Results

The HABRI study showed incredible results that support the ownership of animals for emotional support.

When it comes to reducing stress levels, 88% of pet owners were aware of the stress-reducing effects of having a pet.

86% said they believed pets reduced depression, and 84% spoke to  man’s best friend’s anxiety-reducing effects.

The general awareness continued with 81% of pet owners being knowledgeable that pets help with PTSD conditions in war veterans. A smaller percentage of pet owners were aditionally aware of the positive effects that pets could have on classroom learning, prevention of childhood allergies, and child cognitive development and reading skills.

When it came to healthy aging, 68% of participants believed pets made a difference, and 60% were aware that pets improve heart health. 88% of pet owners agreed that doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living, and admitting to being more trusting of a doctor who would do so.

Awareness aside, personal experience on the benefits of owning a pet was also evident, with 74% of pet owners reporting improved mental health. While taking your pet for a walk might seem like minor exercise, 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements with a pet.

Due to the abovementioned benefits, 80% of aware pet owners said they spent a big part of their day with their pets.

Previous Research

There have not been many specific studies investigating the support provided by emotional support animals (ESAs) in particular.

However, since ESAs are not specifically trained, many studies support their benefits by reporting positive outcomes from general pet ownership. For instance, it’s been scientifically proven that the presence of a dog can significantly reduce blood pressure, improve mood, and reduce depressive symptoms.

Ongoing research through various organizations has shown that dogs, in particular, support their owners emotionally. The overall wellbeing of pet owners is improved, positively affecting mental health illnesses, chronic pain disorders, and struggles with everyday situations that inflict increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression.

Additionally, pet parents find that by providing structure and routine for their pet through walking them, meal times, and general care, they focus on someone other than themselves and find healing and social acceptance, boosting health, happy hormones such as oxytocin, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Pets support their owners through their presence, conveying security, loyalty, and rest.

A 2018 study by The German and Austrian Assistance Dogs Centre, T.A.R.S.Q, showed that quality of life is almost guaranteed when one homes a pet.

In their study with 298 men and women from nine countries, 99.29% of participants reported an increase in activity and their sense of security, 98.58% spoke of amplified motivation for everyday life, and 98.93% testified to an increased zest for life.

Participants honored their ESA as a silent helper who was not always recognized by others as a vital part of their healthcare. The pet’s companionship and presence eased their mental health symptoms.

benefits of ESA

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

An ESA is any animal that provides support for a person with a mental or emotional disability. Dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, or many other types of animals can support their owners by providing companionship, security, and affection. Their presence helps alleviate symptoms of emotional/mental health afflictions in their owners.

Emotional support animals do not require any specific training, although obedience training is beneficial for any pet parent if you want to keep the neighbors happy. It can also serve to strengthen the bond between pet and owner.

Emotional Support Animal Prescription 

The only thing that affords your pet the title of an ESA is a letter that a patient receives from their Licensed Mental Health Professional or General Practitioner.

This letter needs to contain the health professional’s license information as well as contact information and expires after one year.

Why Do I Need an ESA Letter? 

With an ESA letter, you are afforded the benefit of living and traveling with your companion animal.

The rights of emotionally supportive animals are not as extensive as service animals who benefit from the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), which allows them access to a wide range of public areas because of the tasks they do. ESAs, on the other hand, benefit from two specific laws: the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act.

If your companion animal brings a calm to your frequent traveling, then the Air Carrier Access Act allows your ESA to travel with you for free, affording owners an average saving of $125 per trip. This allows those with mental and emotional disabilities to take their comforting animal aboard a plane without having to cage them or fork out extra in airfare. While 21.1% of travelers in a recent survey disapproved of animals onboard a flight, the remaining 78.8% said that they do not see a problem if the pet was brought on board for legitimate reasons.

If you live in housing with a no-pet policy, you can gain special permission when you show your landlord your ESA letter. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) recognizes companion animals as assistive aids and allows tenants with mental or emotional problems to request “reasonable accommodation for their ESAs.” Landowners have no legal right to dispute your legitimate ESA letter, and ESA owners do not need to disclose their mental disability.

Once your licensed mental health professional has approved you for an ESA, you are protected from discriminating landlords and airlines. However, consider others and only make use of these privileges if absolutely necessary. Making sure your ESA is trained and knows how to behave will encourage others to accept companion animals as a whole, rather than rolling their eyes at your noisy and disruptive pooch.

Warning Signs of an ESA Scam

Rushing to apply for an ESA letter could leave you rejected at the airport with your cat in your bag.

Unfortunately, with the growing demand for ESA letters, many fake ESA websites offer a quick turnaround time at a low cost.

Be warned – quick turnaroundis the first sign that your letter may be fraudulent. It takes time to receive an Emotional Support Animal Letter, as you will have to be assessed by a licensed mental health professional in your state.

Sites that ask you to register your pet may also be pulling your leg, as no formal registration for your pet is necessary.

What to Look For in a Legitimate ESA Company 

When researching for a company that can provide you with a legitimate ESA Letter online, here is a check list to help you find a reputable ESA company:

  • They have BBB Accreditation for ethical practices.
  • Following a pre-screening, you are put in touch with a LMHP in your State.
  • Your letter contains the contact and license details of the LMHP.
  • Continued service is offered if an airline or landlord wishes to verify your letter.
  • Your ESA letter states compliance with the FHA or ACAA.

Growing Awareness of the Benefits of ESAs

As a current or future ESA owner, you may already be aware of the prejudice and judgment aimed at you for taking your pet everywhere.

By educating others and getting them to fall in love with your pet, you can grow awareness of and foster acceptance of emotional support animals.

The truth is ESAs provide unmatched emotional support, which can drastically improve a person’s quality of life. When it comes to ESAs, those with them receive a source of therapy that simply cannot be replicated.

There’s nothing quite like the love and companionship of an animal, and thanks to recent studies, surveys, and statistics, we know that our lives are happier and healthier thanks to the love of our four-legged friends.

Kathryn Anderson

About the author

CertaPet's Senior Marketing Associate/pet care advocate who works to develop new content for purrfect pet owners everywhere. Also a lover of coffee, corgis, and corny cat puns.

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  • Just a follow up to this, there was a similar study conducted in the UK last year. Out of 6000 pet owners surveyed, 90% of them believed that their pet had helped them cope mentally with the lockdown. Their pets also helped keep them active and healthy as well. This study was from the University of York and the University of Lincoln.

  • Why are you only refering to AMERICANS? I am Canadian, (SK), which you peviously said was OK for reasons you should have on file. It is also very expensive in this time of Covid, which many of us can’t afford?

  • I am CANADIAN – you reffer to Americans only! I need a cat/kitten because of reasons you should already have on file. Now it’s just for Americans? You are also askimg alot for unemployed people, as many of us are!

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