Animals are wonderful for mental illness. But first off, what exactly is an emotional support animal? Unlikely service animals, they’re not specially trained to provided assistance to people with disabilities, and they’re not granted the same universal access that service dogs have to do their duties. Rather, emotional support animals are recommended by a mental health professional to help someone to manage their mental illness. There may be some accommodations available for emotional support animals, but not necessarily, and this varies by jurisdiction.
Regardless of whether you have a certified emotional support animal or not, your furry friend can do just as good a job of being a support for you. They make a great mindfulness focus, and can help to ground you when your mind is trying to run off into the past or future.
They provide structure, as they love routine. My four guinea pigs know exactly what to expect and when, and they’ll remind me quite insistently if I forget. Taking care of them is also a good motivator for activity; I may not want to clean their cage, but I know it’s not optional.
One important protective factor when it comes to suicide risk is a sense of responsibility for someone/something. When the grasp on living is tenuous, that sense of responsibility to the furbabies helps put weight onto the side of living.
The companionship is very important. I live alone, and it’s not unusual for me to go days without seeing anyone. But my munchkins are very interactive, so I never feel like I’m actually alone.
I feel fairly sure that our animals are able to pick up on our emotional states, although it’s hard to say why I think that. There’s no specific behaviour I can point to; just a sense that when I’m off, something is off with them, too.
The nice thing about purse-size guinea pigs is that I can take them places. I brought a couple of them to my brother’s wedding a few years ago. I was super stressed out about it, but having them tucked into my purse helped me to get through the whole thing.
Having animals may not be feasible for everyone, but I think they’re a huge benefit for anyone dealing with a mental illness.
Do you have an emotional support animal, certified or otherwise? How does it help you?