ESA

We are all familiar with service animals that are trained to provide help for their owners in a variety of different ways.  Service animals can be trained to lead a blind person, support the head of someone having a seizure, or detect an imminent panic attack, among other tasks.  However, new on the scene are emotional-support animal(ESA) that provide emotional support to students on a college campus suffering with a mental illness, i.e., depression or anxiety.  The animal is not specifically trained (as would be a service animal) to give emotional support, which can lead to such an animal being indistinguishable from a regular pet.  Inasmuch as the number of college students with clinical depression or anxiety is today rising, ESAs are becoming more common on campuses.

As a result of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which describes a service animal as one that is trained to perform a task its owner can’t, schools have formulated and implemented a clear policy pertaining to the use and housing of service animals on college campuses.  However, the use of ESAs (as reported in a January 23, 2019 Philadelphia Inquirer article in The Region section) is a more recent development, and there is less of a clear-cut policy defining the use of an emotional-support animal.  At the moment, permission for having an ESA in campus housing is granted based on a letter from a medical provider explaining that the person requesting an ESA has a diagnosed mental illness and that an animal is necessary to help this person cope.  Unfortunately, a problem arises when students feign mental health issues in order to obtain permission to have their favorite pet accompany them to college.  This is a kink that needs to be worked out, and may prevent a doctor from writing the necessary letter.  This all being said, there are other avenues to take in order to get the needed letter that will allow someone with a mental illness to bring an ESA to campus.  If you can not get your doctor to write the required letter, there is an organization called CertaPet (that is but one of a number of such organizations) that is able to certify the need for an ESA after conducting a clinical assessment by phone with a person who is requesting emotional support.

There is plenty of research that has been conducted in thfield of ESAs, but little of this research proves the if, how, or why an ESA works.  There were a number of students who were interviewed for the Inquirer article giving glowing reports on the benefits of having an ESA, but all the data received was anecdotal information.  Molly Crossman, a researcher at Yale who focuses on human-animal interaction, is cited in the Inquirer article as noting that research has been limited to short-term interactions which does not give a full picture of the benefits of an ESA.  It seems as though the final chapter has yet to be written on the benefits of an ESA, but nothing appears to suggest that ESAs do not serve a helpful purpose.

 

References:

National Alliance On Mental Illness

National Institute On Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

the mood changed

“ We talk about mental-health in a reactive way, after a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain commits suicide.  Part of me wonders, if we were to normalize talking about mental health, how many people could we keep from that kind of suffering?” (This sentence appeared at the end of an article that I read recently.)

Most people just do not want to talk about mental-health illness.  The topic of mental-health illness is not found on any list of acceptable subjects for polite conversation.  If the topic creeps in during an evening gathering, the tone of the conversation changes.  People get quiet.  A hush comes over the room.  Eye contact ceases.  People begin to look down into their laps or off to the side.  They squirm in their seats, and sit counting the minutes until the conversation can be changed.

Just the other evening I was with a group of wonderful, bright, witty women, all of whom happen to have partaken in therapy at one time or another.  They are no strangers to the concept of seeking help, and of knowing the benefits of that help.  However, only one of these women knew that I had actually suffered from depression and anxiety.  We were all laughing, drinking, eating, and sharing personal stories.  After awhile, each person had made an off-handed reference to their experience with therapy, leading me to feel safe enough that I could share my story with these wonderful, bright, witty women.  At a moment in the conversation that seemed apt for an appropriate segue, I shared that I write a blog about mental health, and in particluar about the stigma that is so unfortunately attached to it.  I was immediately aware of the change in the mood around me.  Everyone got quiet.  No one knew what to say.  Wonderful, bright, witty, women, all of whom had some experience with a mental health issue, and perhaps even the medications that often accompany a mental health problem, were embarassed by my acknowledging my own battle with mental illness.  To this moment, I do not remember how the conversation moved forward.  I became self-concious, and I know I stopped talking.  The evening continued on, but this incident will certainly make me think carefully before sharing that information again.

If this can happen to me, someone who writes a blog about mental health, someone who can speak about it a bit more freely than many others, how can we expect the average joe to find this topic comfortable?  If the people who understand it are uncomfortable, then how can we expect those who have no idea about mental health illness begin to gain a level of comfort in a conversation dealing with this topic?

The solution to getting rid of the stigma that accompanies mental illness needs to start with us – the people who have a mental illness.  We need to be the ones to speak up and out about our own experiences.  Let people know that we are normal, wonderful, bright, witty, people with a health issue.

Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Inch by Inch

Inch by inch and step by step we are making progress in the battle against the stigma related to mental-health illness.  The progress has been slow for sure, and comes primarily in the form of articles being written about the existence of this stigma.  The stigma is definitely still a factor in the mental-health conversation, but at least people are talking about that stigma.  Does that sound like progress?  Yes, it does, certainly to me, because we are talking about and acknowledging the existence of mental-health issues.  We are not ignoring the topic hoping it will go away.

Each of these articles to which I referred above talks about people, famous and not-so-famous, admitting that they have mental-health challenges.  Carson Daly, host of The Voice and a contributor on the Today Show, admits battling a panic and anxiety disorder since childhood.  Charlamagne Tha God, a radio host and best-selling author of Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, admits that even though he talks and writes about having mental-health issues, he is still not totally comfortable with this persona.  Allison Schmitt, a gold medal Olympic swimmer, Kevin Love, a professional basketball player, Jason Kander, a politician, and so many more well-known people have come forward and raised their hands and said, “Yes, I have a mental-health challenge.” But even with so many people confessing to having mental-health issues, we unfortunately are still not free of the stigma.

Our society has a long way to go to get up to speed on accepting mental-health illness and treating it like any other illness.  Until that happens, people will remain wary and reticent in seeking help for their mental-health issue. Depression will go untreated.  Anxiety will go untreated.  Panic disorders will go untreated.  Bi-polar disorders will remain in the closet.  And this result is so unfortunate, because there are so many ways to get help and lead a healthy, productive, and normal life.

For resources for help please refer to the list below.

 

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health