Emotional Support Animals, or ESAs, are animals that are used to provide comfort, companionship, and support to those who suffer from mental or emotional distress. Though not qualified as service animals and therefore not subject to the same benefits, ESAs can often travel with their owners and be admitted into housing establishments or public areas where other pets cannot. Though they can be effective in helping those who suffer from issues like depression or anti-social behavior disorder, ESAs can be especially useful for those experiencing PTSD.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it can affect anyone who has gone through a traumatic event that causes feelings of helplessness, horror, or intense fear. Common sufferers of PTSD include war veterans, those who have witnessed a violent crime, assault victims, or those who have been through a natural disaster. PTSD can result in anxiety, angry outbursts, an inability to connect with others, irrational fears, nightmares or night terrors, avoidance of people or situations that remind them of the traumatic event, or increased fight or flight response.
Those suffering from PTSD could have problems sleeping, in social situations, holding down a job, or forming/maintaining close personal relationships. It’s not uncommon for those with PTSD to develop depression or anxiety disorders, and many symptoms linger for months or even years after the traumatic event that triggered the condition.
Who Experiences PTSD?
It’s estimated that 3.6% of adults in the United States suffer from some form of PTSD. Though the severity of symptoms vary widely, any individual who has been diagnosed with the disorder will experience some negative consequences and degraded quality of life. Currently, PTSD is most common in those veterans who have returned from a war or conflict. PTSD is usually treated with counseling, cognitive behavior therapy, or medication if the symptoms do not respond to other methods of treatment.
How Can ESAs Help Those with PTSD?
Emotional Support Animals are used to provide comfort and relief from symptoms for their owners. Those with PTSD often struggle with relating to others who have not been through the same traumatic event as they have. War veterans tend to only feel truly comfortable with their comrades who were in the same conflict. Victims of violent crimes may only feel they belong in support groups with other victims of violent crimes. These feelings can make it very difficult for sufferers to relate to those who love them and take comfort from friends and family members.
Animals do not have the same needs as human beings. A PTSD sufferer does not have to make conversation with an animal or tell them how they feel. They don’t have to justify why they act a certain way or why they are not the same person as they were before the traumatic event. They can simply ‘be’ with an animal, and this alone can be an enormous comfort as they are on their healing journey. Animals also demand care, which prompts the PTSD sufferer to ‘get out of their own head’ and take care of another being. Often, the animal and its need for care is the only thing in the beginning that can get the sufferer out of bed in the morning.
Recovering from PTSD can be very lonely, and having a trusted animal by your side at all times can help the recovery process move along more quickly and effectively. If you or someone you love has PTSD and you believe an Emotional Support Animal could help with treatment, you need to talk with a qualified professional who can evaluate the situation and provide an ESA letter for an animal if appropriate.