Mental health can be a challenging struggle for many veterans who are trying to live productive, happy and healthy lives back on home soil. Being as healthy as possible in both body and mind is hugely important for our well-being, and unfortunately, it’s far too easy to neglect the latter. Often, the thought of sitting in a therapists’ office and opening up about your most private thoughts is extremely daunting. But in the end, seeking professional help is 100% worth the effort and can certainly be necessary to begin the healing process in taking care of our mental health.
A wonderful new therapy that has been gaining popularity in the past few years is the use of ESAs or emotional support animals. Emotional support animals have shown major promise in the treatment of many mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and others. In this article, we discuss the enormous benefits of ESAs for veterans, and everything to know about getting one.
ESAs: What Do They Do?
You’re probably quite familiar with service animals, after all, most of us have seen guide dogs at work. However, you may be a little unclear on exactly what the function of emotional support animals is. While service dogs are specifically trained to help their owners with tasks, ESAs instead provide generalized emotional support to their owners at all times. This could be something as simple as providing their owner with affection on call, or even disrupting the traumatic nightmares.
Who Can Benefit from Having an ESA?
Emotional support animals are unique in their ability to provide treatment to a wide range of mental health conditions. Some of the conditions that ESAs can be prescribed to help include:
- Alcohol/Substance Dependence
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety
The most common mental health conditions reported as affecting veterans are depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders.
Veterans are a unique group in the population, in that compared to other U.S. citizens, they are 15 times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. Emotional support animals are well regarded as being an excellent option for veterans struggling with mental health for a range of reasons.
Benefits of Having an ESA as a Veteran
The benefits of having the company of an emotional support animal are wide-ranging for those that have mental health issues. The effects of a support animal is two-fold, with both positive physiological effects and psychological effects stemming from being around a pet. Let’s have closer look at the amazing benefits that they can provide.
It’s well-known that animals, and pets in particular, can have a huge impact on our health and well-being. However, for a long time, it wasn’t particularly clear as to why. Now, with new research into the human-animal bond, there’s more detailed evidence available to explain why.
Researchers have found that one of the reasons we experience a boost in our overall well-being from spending time with pets, is that interacting with them triggers the brain to release a whole host of important feelgood chemicals. These feel-good chemicals, including oxytocin (also known as the ‘love’ chemical) and dopamine, can help to re-balance the brain when biochemistry is affected by mental health conditions. This has the benefit of making an ESA owner feel healthier and happier, naturally.
In addition to the brain boosting powers that ESAs possess, they are also effective psychological aids. Emotional support animals provide a range of benefits that can help their owners to overcome their mental health issues in a number of ways. Here are some examples of the psychological benefits of ESAs for veterans.
Veterans are most commonly diagnosed with PTSD after completing their service, a terrifying and debilitating condition which can severely affect quality of life. An ESA can help to ease this anxiety disorder by providing a sense of security and company to their owner, lessening their anxiety in unfamiliar situations.
We know that isolation and loneliness can only serve to compound the effects of mental illnesses, particularly depression. So ESAs can play a major role in keeping veterans well by providing much-needed companionship and affection around the clock by keeping an individual struggling with their mental health feeling connected and loved.
Interrupts Negative Behaviors
Those who suffer from PTSD are often trapped in a cycle of involuntary behaviors that are difficult to regulate when they are on their own. ESAs can provide a valuable service if they receive simple training, by helping to interrupt flashbacks and nightmares, assisting their owner to return to the safety of reality.
Encourages a Healthier Lifestyle
Having an ESA can encourage a healthier lifestyle in general. Pets require consistent exercise and interaction, meaning that they can motivate their owners to live a physically healthier lifestyle, which can encourage improvement in mental health. They can also promote socializing with others, which can lead to a new and strengthened valuable relationships with others.
How to Get an ESA as a Veteran
Getting an ESA is a simpler process than you may think, and can be completed quickly. If you’re experiencing mental health problems as a veteran, the first thing to do is to seek access to a therapist who you can discuss your concerns with. If you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you can discuss using an ESA as part of your treatment with your practitioner. Once they have deemed that you are suitable to have an emotional support animal, they will draw up an ESA letter for you that proves you have a medical need for your pet. This will allow your pet to live and travel with you. Remember, any pet can be an ESA, so whether you adopt, shop or have an existing pet, they can qualify as your ESA.
Emotional support animals can have huge benefits on our health, both mental and physical. This is especially true for veterans, a group in society that faces a unique set of challenges in their day to day lives.