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Here’s Everything You Need About Getting An Emotional Support Animal for Depression

Emotional Support Animals can help people with depression cope with feelings of loneliness and worry, and help them improve their outlook on life. 
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

As people look for ways to manage depression symptoms, animals are some of the most surprising yet scientifically proven coping tools. Countless experts, including the ones at Mental Health America, point to the significant mental health benefits of having an animal companion, with perks ranging from decreased loneliness, stress, and worry to an improved outlook on life.

What’s more, the benefits of an animal on mental health conditions are so significant that they are protected by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act and even the Fair Housing Act. For people with depression, an animal may be beneficial in soothing intense feelings of isolation, hopelessness, or disinterest. 

If you’re considering getting an ESA to help with your mental health conditions, here’s everything you need to know about getting an emotional support animal for depression. 

Do I Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal? Take the Quiz

At A Glance:

  • What Is An Emotional Support Animal for Depression?
    An emotional support animal may provide a person with depression comfort, companionship, and relief from the symptoms of the mental illness. 
  • Do I Qualify for An Emotional Support Animal?
    Suppose you are diagnosed with clinical depression or experience some of the symptoms. In that case, you may qualify for an ESA – find out if you are eligible for an emotional support animal by talking with a licensed mental health professional. 
  • What Can Emotional Support Animals Do for Depression?
    Animals are excellent for providing comfort and relief from many symptoms of depression, including relief from feelings of loneliness or disinterest in most activities. 
  • How Do I Get An Emotional Support Animal for Depression?
    Once you have your ESA qualification letter, the possibilities are endless for getting an ESA for depression – select any animal or breed you want!
  • Take The Next Steps: Get An Emotional Support Animal Letter 
    Pettable connects you with a licensed mental health professional who will approve you for an ESA letter, which you receive within 24 hours if approved.
Not Sure If You Qualify for an ESA Letter? Take the Quiz

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals (ESA) can be any animal that helps reduce the symptoms of a person’s mental health issues. Though the name may sound fancy, emotional support animals provide comfort and support just by being with a person.

Unlike psychiatric service animals, who undergo rigorous training to complete specific tasks, ESAs don’t need any special training or qualifications to be effective, apart from a letter from a licensed mental health professional designating them an ESA.

Studies point to the numerous benefits of ESAs, incredibly emotional support dogs. Counseling Today suggests holding or stroking any animal. This simple action may lower your heart, reduce feelings of loneliness, promote hormones in the brain that calm and relax the body, and increase your engagement with the surroundings. In a person with depression or another mental illness, these positive benefits can significantly improve their overall mental wellness and quality of life. 

What Can An Emotional Support Animal Do for Depression?

The companionship of an ESA brings many benefits to people with depression. Here are some of the ways an animal can provide emotional support. 

Alleviate feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness

Depression is much more than feeling sad. This mental health condition is incredibly complex but most known for the blue feelings that come as a depression side effect. Whether trying to manage one of these emotions or all three, depression can severely impact how you see the world. This is where an ESA for depression is helpful. 

Studies reveal a positive correlation between animals and lower levels of depression and social isolation. The same studies also indicate that ESAs will likely improve a person’s psychological well-being and life satisfaction. 

Decrease feelings of loneliness and social isolation

Studies show that the presence of an ESA likely lowers the owner’s feelings of social isolation, a feeling that is a common symptom of depression. One study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that 54% of animal owners felt that their animal helps them connect with other people, and 76% of people (including both animal owners and non-owners) think that interactions with animals often reduce feelings of social isolation. These statistics show that an ESA may be crucial in helping people with depression make meaningful connections and decrease feelings of loneliness.

Help a person with depression develop an improved sense of self-efficacy

Caring for an emotional support dog, cat, or animal to care for may not seem intuitive for people with depression. However, being responsible for the animal’s food and well-being has been linked to improved self-worth and efficacy. Depression symptoms may manifest as feeling out of control or worthless, and sometimes even severe tiredness to the point where simple tasks seem impossible. An ESA is helpful because its presence reminds the owner that its livelihood depends on them! This alone can encourage a person with depression to start finding the motivation for small tasks and slowly improve their thinking about their ability to impact some parts of their future.

Promote higher feelings of life satisfaction and psychological well-being

Improved satisfaction and well-being accompany the calming effect an ESA may have on a person with depression. Owning an ESA is a great way to help people with depression regulate their short-term and long-term symptoms. In the short term, striking or playing with an animal is enough to increase the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, which promotes an improvement in mood and increases calm. Long-term effects include improved mental well-being and contentment. 

Encourage regular physical activity

Regular exercise is an effective coping tool for depression, though often difficult to encourage —many people with depression experience extreme fatigue to the point where the minor tasks seem exhausting. But regular exercise is linked to improved mental health, even among people with depression.

It boosts the brain’s “happy hormones” and provides a positive distraction from anxious thoughts, improves confidence, and provides opportunities for social interactions. That’s why having an animal, specifically an emotional support dog, to care for is an effective way to encourage regular physical activity since you become responsible for your furry friend’s daily walks. 

Do I Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal?

Maybe you’re uncertain whether your mental health concern is valid to qualify for an ESA. Know that this is a concern held by many people! Here are three cases of situations that qualify for an ESA.

Case 1: An adult with high-functioning depression

Depression comes in many different forms, even in adults that may appear always to be calm and confident. A situation like this is best described as “high-functioning” depression, which means a person can go about their day without their mental disorders getting in the way of most daily tasks.

However, this doesn’t mean your depression isn’t valid. You may experience intense feelings of loneliness or hopelessness, insomnia, or noticeable appetite changes. The calming effects of having furry friends around may provide the stability a person with high-functioning depression needs to improve their mental well-being.

Case 2: A person with bipolar disorder with tendencies for major depressive episodes

Someone with bipolar disorder may experience extreme lows and go through a dissociative episode more so than periods of extreme highs. An ESA is just as likely to have the same soothing effect on a person with these symptoms as on someone with generalized depression.

In these cases, an ESA provides companionship and a regular presence to people struggling through the ups and downs of their mental condition. Owning an ESA may also inspire the person to improve their sense of self-efficacy and purpose since the animal’s well-being depends on the person’s actions. 

Case 3: A person with depression who is trying to overcome addiction

A third of people diagnosed with depression also suffer from anxiety and drug and alcohol addiction. If someone is trying to overcome addiction coupled with anxiety or even post-traumatic stress disorder, having an ESA is likely to provide the distraction and responsibility to help in the process.

An ESA also provides non-judgmental love and companionship. One of the hallmark symptoms of addiction and depression is low self-esteem, making an ESA the perfect companion for someone struggling to rebuild their self-image. Though an ESA provides numerous benefits, it’s important to remember that they are not a quick-fix solution. An ESA provides excellent support for someone who is stable and seeking additional support through a licensed mental health professional. 

What Is the Best Emotional Support Animal for Depression?

Many emotional support animals make excellent companions for people with depression. Remember that any animal or breed makes an acceptable ESA if it gives you comfort and companionship. These three animals are some of the best emotional support animals for depression. 

Cats

These feline companions are by far one of the most popular animals for people with depression. Not only are their low-maintenance and hassle-free personalities well-suited to lower energy levels that are symptomatic of depression, but they are also calm and easy-going. Their playful and loving companionship is frequently linked to higher ease, well-being, and confidence levels. However, if the stereotype of a disinterested cat deters you, keep an eye out for these notoriously friendly cat breeds – Maine Coons, Siamese, Ragdoll, Persian, and Scottish Fold cats make loving companions that can help soothe depression. 

Dogs

Dogs are known to be friendly and endlessly loyal, and for a good reason, dogs are some of the most popular ESAs. Studies link dogs to lower levels of stress and depression and higher feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Though they require more hands-on care than a cat, experts say that the responsibility and routines demanded by a dog benefit people with depression. Even if a person has low energy or interest, having an animal rely on them provides a sense of purpose that may have been missing. If you’re considering an emotional support dog, some of the best dog breeds for depression are Yorkshire Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and Labradoodles

Birds

Birds may not be the most obvious choice for an ESA, but they certainly deliver serotonin-boosting benefits! These chatty animals are very loving and make excellent companions, especially for people with depression. Birds are brilliant animals that can sense intense feelings like depression and anxiety. This makes them great for people with mental health disorders since an emotional support bird tries to provide comfort to the distressed person. Some of the best birds to consider are Parakeets, Cockatiels, Green-Cheeked Conures, and Doves. 

How Do I Get An Emotional Support Animal for Depression?

Before buying an animal, you need to get qualified for an emotional support animal. To do so, you must meet a licensed mental health professional who will determine whether you meet the criteria; often, you are ESA qualified for generalized anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other conditions. If an expert approves, you’ll receive an official letter confirming your ESA qualification. 

Then comes the best part – choosing your animal! Unlike service animals, an Emotional Support Animal may be any animal or breed, so long as it provides you with the emotional and mental support you need! Because of this flexibility, you do not need to go to any specific breeder to find one. 

One of the easiest ways to get qualified for an ESA is with Pettable. This platform connects you with a mental health clinician with the licenses and certifications to provide you with the best experience. Meet with your clinician about your mental health needs. Suppose the expert thinks you meet the criteria to get an emotional support animal for depression. In that case, they will provide you with an ESA qualification letter within 24 hours of your appointment!  

How Do I Make My Pet An Emotional Support Animal for Depression?

Remember, emotional support animals can be any species or breed that gives you psychological support. Start the process of making your pet an emotional support animal by talking with your therapist or mental health professional. If they think you qualify for an emotional support animal, they will provide you with an ESA qualification letter. This letter is a crucial step in making your pet an ESA! At this point, your letter is the only documentation you need to make your pet an ESA. Though some websites claim that emotional support animals need to be registered online, neither the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nor the Fair Housing Act requires you to register your ESA.  

Why does a person make their pet an ESA? Refer to the Fair Housing Act if you’re denied housing because of your pet or are charged an expensive pet fee. This law protects animals that provide emotional support and comfort for people with mental disabilities. With your ESA letter, you may seek housing without the stress of jumping through hoops to keep your animal with you.  

Frequently Asked Questions

If you want to know more about Emotional Support Animals for Depression, these are the most commonly-asked questions. 

Can I get a Psychiatric Service Dog Instead?

It depends on whether you want the dog to perform highly specialized tasks or provide emotional comfort. If you want a dog that does specific tasks (think: give you your prescriptions, help you to calm down in triggering situations), then you need a psychiatric service dog. But a psychiatric service dog is unnecessary if you just want comfort from your animal. 

Can any animal be an emotional support animal?

Yes! As long as the animal is emotionally grounding and soothing for you, then you may get it registered as an ESA. No special training or breed restrictions are required for ESAs, making the requirements more flexible than the rigorous ones needed for service animals.

What animal is good for depression?

There is no correct answer when it comes to choosing an ESA. Generally, dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs are some of the most popular ESAs for people with depression because they are likely to be comforting and highly affectionate towards their owners. 

Can you get an emotional support animal for major depressive disorder?

For people with major depressive disorder, a psychiatric service dog is often recommended over an ESA. A specialized service dog can provide support and perform tasks that the person may be unable to do themselves.

Why is having a pet good for depression?

Pets and ESAs are scientifically proven to have a calming effect on humans. For example, petting or stroking an animal triggers lower cortisol levels in the brain while increasing the “happy” hormones. Others find the non-judgmental and loyal nature of animals to decrease feelings of social isolation and improve self-efficacy. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or trying to navigate the ups and downs of your mental health, depression is a prevalent mood disorder. It can be debilitating and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. What’s more, there is no “quick-fix” remedy for people with depression. 

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.