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Are Emotional Support Animals an Effective Depression Treatment?

March 4, 2017 Articles
pets as depression treatment

Animals have a way of lifting spirits and transmitting calmness, both to their owners and to strangers. All it takes is the sight of a dog to make some people smile, and petting any animal has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, which translates to an overall reduction in anxiety.

Do you feel grounded and calm when your pet is around? Do you rarely have episodes of crippling anxiety or depression when you’re with your pet? If so, your pet might already be considered an emotional support animal and play a supportive role in your depression treatment.

Not a Therapy Animal and Not Quite a Service Animal Either

Emotional support animals aren’t therapy animals, but they aren’t technically considered service animals either. They fall into a category of their own.

  • Service animals, which may lead the blind or be trained to assist with other medical concerns, like alerting to seizures, are trained in a specific task to help an individual in their daily life.
  • Therapy animals usually visit groups of people in hospitals, nursing homes or college campuses to relieve stress and to serve as a supplemental depression treatment. They are only trained to have basic manners; the main requirement is unswerving friendliness and gentleness.
  • Emotional support animals, on the other hand, aren’t trained for a specific task like service animals. Instead, they provide therapeutic support to an individual. The emotional support animal’s mere presence provides psychological relief to his or her owner.

Emotional support animals, unlike service animals, enjoy only a few more rights than an average pet, namely the ability to live in no-pet housing and to fly in the cabin of an airplane. Both require a prescription from a doctor. Only service animals are protected by law for the right to enter restaurants, stores, hotels, etc. If you think you may need psychological support from an animal in these instances, a psychiatric service animal may be more appropriate. Tasks for psychiatric service dogs include counterbalance for an owner who is dizzy from medication, waking the person on the sound of an alarm when that individual is heavily medicated and doesn’t hear it, or interrupting self-harming behavior.

Are Emotional Support Animals Effective as a Depression Treatment?

The question of whether emotional support animals are effective at treating depression has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. If one individual finds the presence of his or her pet profoundly comforting and capable of keeping certain symptoms at bay, who is to say that it’s ineffective?

The statistical data regarding heart rate and blood pressure indicates that contact with animals has a biological effect on people, but the matter has not been researched in depth.

Resources:

https://www.nsarco.com/pop-esa.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3236382

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