Applying for an Emotional Support Animal

ESAs provide support through companionship and can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. Before you rush to the nearest animal shelter or get your pet from home, you should be aware that there is a stringent process for qualifying for an ESA.

By Jessica Dickenson — November 30, 2022

Applying for an Emotional Support Animal

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic showed that nearly 1 in 3 college students experienced significant anxiety or depression. While mental health issues may dissipate with time, a change in environment, or help from a licensed mental health counselor, some students may discover that they may have chronic mental health issues. There are numerous resources to help, including your campus' counseling services.

Mental health is healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your mental health includes your social, emotional, and psychological well-being in addition to affecting how you think, feel, and act. You should not put off caring for your mental health and take active steps to stay on top of caring for yourself.

One resource that most students don't realize they could utilize is applying for an emotional support animal. It is important to note that emotional support animals (ESAs) are not service animals but are pets that provide emotional support for individuals who would otherwise struggle. Not everyone should apply for an emotional support animal since caring for a pet is a lot of responsibility, and not everyone receives the same benefits. However, ESAs are invaluable for students who would otherwise suffer from a poorer quality of life from their emotional or mental health issues.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal can come in any shape, size, or breed. Some people rely on dogs, while others may have a pet cat, rabbit, or other types of pet. According to the National Network on the Americans with Disabilities Act, emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

These animals are not specially trained to assist you, although, after adoption and training, your animal may respond to your verbal or nonverbal cues to support you.

How Do I Get an ESA?

"Great!" you might be thinking, "I would love to have an emotional support animal in my dorm!" Before you rush to the nearest animal shelter or get your pet from home, you should be aware that there is a stringent process for qualifying for an ESA. Here is a brief step-by-step to help start the process for applying:

You Need to Have a Recognized Need

As sweet as it would be to have a pet, ESAs are reserved for individuals with a diagnosed mental health condition and may benefit from an ESA. Unfortunately, your self-assessment form taken online won't cut it unless you have the support of a professional. This diagnosis has to come from a licensed healthcare worker such as a psychiatrist, therapist, or licensed mental healthcare practitioner.

How do you know if you have a diagnosed mental health issue that would potentially qualify you for an ESA? You should first always consult with your healthcare professional about the possibility of an ESA. However, if you have any of the below issues, you may be eligible to apply:

  • Learning Disabilities
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Phobias

Connect with Your Healthcare Provider

So, you thought your ADD diagnosis from kindergarten would be enough to get you an ESA? Unfortunately, not!

There is no shame in connecting with a therapist to reassess your mental health and thereafter express your desire for an ESA animal. Better yet, you can go to your regular therapist and talk about if an ESA would benefit you in your current mental health plan. If you haven't been to therapy in a while and don't know where to start, you could reach out to a therapist online who would be happy to help you. An onl ine therapist is as valid as a therapist seen in person.

Get Your ESA Letter

After you have established a need based on your therapist's assessment, you will need to secure an ESA letter from them. This letter establishes that you have a disability and that an ESA would provide benefits to alleviate some of the symptoms of that disability. This letter must be on the licensed professional's letterhead, contain their licensing information, and be signed and dated by the professional. Having some means of contacting the professional is always a good idea if your school needs to verify any information.

Communicate with Your School

You may think that now you have official legal documentation, you have no reason not to bring your pet into your dorm. While this is somewhat true, you are required to notify your landlord (or your director of residence life) that you need an ESA and will bring one into your residence. Most of the time, the school or apartment cannot refuse you, but they may if your pet poses a serious health or safety hazard to other residents. You should be well versed on your housing rights with an ESA so that your school does not discriminate against your disability.

If you are living with anyone, you should be communicating with your roommate throughout this entire process. The last thing you want to do is cause any additional stressors by bringing in your ESA!

Jessica Dickenson

Jessica Dickenson

Jessica Dickenson graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College with degrees in English and communication. She has applied her abilities working as a young marketing professional for a local university but works as a freelance writer and photographer in her spare time. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband.
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