Emotional Support Animals for Mental Illness

Cookie the guinea pig with front paws stretched out

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 provide 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 they 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?

Peanut the guinea pig smushed up against my arm
This is Peanut squashed between my arm and his blankie.
Snuggles with guinea pig Butternut while doing jigsaw puzzle
Butternut is hanging out while I work on a jigsaw puzzle.
guinea pig with strand of chewed hair
Oreo gave me a haircut.
guinea pig Casper
Casper still looks cute after a rather bad job on my part of cutting her hair.
Cookie the guinea pig with front paws stretched out
This was Cookie. Her cute pose was with her feet sticking out in front of her like this.
guinea pigs Oreo and Cookie sitting in a basket

15 thoughts on “Emotional Support Animals for Mental Illness”

  1. I love seeing your guinea pigs, so as soon as I seen you participating in this one, I thought to myself, I hope I see some photos. 🙂 So I have some cuteness fix today.

    I totally agree that owning pets can be of huge benefit. All pets I have had over the years helped me in some way. I miss owning a pet right. I hope one day to be in a position again, but it won’t be anytime soon.

  2. Ashley, I know your little fur babies bring you so much joy and love. I am so thrilled you shared more pictures of them, because, heck… I can’t get enough of those sweet little faces.
    I especially love the story of you bringing them to your brothers wedding and how they kept you mindful and calm. That was a great idea, but I can only imagine all the poopy’s at the bottom of your bag. LOL!
    Thank you so very much in participating in Week #11 “Working on Us” 😍💚

  3. guinea pigs are the cutest! I remember at preschool we had some of those snuggly little guys. I still remember them. I am glad you have your 5 furbabies to support you through everything! <3

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