Everything you should know about ESA Letter

As per the studies performed by the 2021 State of Mental Health in America, mental illnesses in the United States are worsening day by day. More than 47 million Americans, or 19% of all US adults, are suffering from depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, OCD, or other issues. 

There are several medications available for people who suffer from mental illness. Perhaps one of the most prominent these days is the use of an emotional support animal (ESA). An ESA is a type of psychological support service animal that assists its owner in relieving some sort of mental or emotional disorder. In order to get an ESA pet, you must get yourself an ESA letter online or offline.

 In this blog, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about getting an official ESA letter certification for your ESA pet. So, let’s dive in!

What is an ESA letter? 

First and foremost, let’s try to understand what an Emotional Support Animal Letter is in the first place. An ESA letter is a formally evaluated certification that prescribes having a pet animal as part of a major treatment program for someone who is mentally and emotionally challenged. 

If the person opting for the ESA prescription is found eligible all through their assessment, any practicing LMHP (licensed mental health professional), such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist will sign and approve the ESA Certification.

What does an ESA letter contain? 

The ESA letter mainly has to mention clearly that you do have a psychological condition that requires you to apply for an ESA “prescription” in order to live a balanced life.

Below are listed all of the things an ESA letter must contain in order to call it a genuine one. 

  • The LMHP’s license number, type, and signature, validity period, state of jurisdiction.
  • The contact details of the LMHP.
  • The patient’s or ESA letter recipient’s name and contact details.
  • The sort of underlying mental health concern you think the patient or recipient is having.
  • The way in which their underlying mental health disorders hinder the patient’s or recipient’s daily actions.
  • ESA pet’s name or basic identification information.
  • Letter issuance date
  • Date of letter expiration

Other than these, some aviation companies that let their passengers travel with ESA pets on flights require that your ESA letter include the following information:

  • A proper statement that your ESA will assist you during your flight. 
  • The weight of the pet ESA animal.
  • The breed of the pet ESA animal

Who can qualify for an ESA letter? 

To be qualified for an ESA, you must first meet with a LMHP who confirms that you: 

i) really have a mental disorder or disability. 

ii) that the involvement of your support animal alleviates or reduces your illness.

The psychological or emotional mental condition must be one of those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The medical conditions to qualify for an ESA pet include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • OCD
  • PTSD
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Panic Attacks
  • Eating Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • learning disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Sexual disorder
  • Mental Retardation.
  • Provisional TIC disorders
  • Developmental coordination disorder.
  • Gender identity disorder (GID)
  • Substance-related disorders (alcohol, drugs).
  • Neurocognitive disorders (NCDs).
  • Agoraphobia or other phobias
  • Grieving over a large loss

 Having an ESA pet can assist people with one or more of the conditions listed above in the following ways: 

  • Managing stress.
  • Lesser panic attacks. 
  • Enhanced sleep quality.
  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Decreases anxiety and depression
  • Reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Improves performance in routine everyday activities. 

Difference between ESAs and PSDs

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are assistance dogs that have received training to aid their handler with a mental disorder or defect. People are given both PSDs and ESAs to help them cope with their mental health related problems and both of these have legal rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

However they have the following differences:

  • A PSD should be trained to handle activities relating to the impairment of the owner. ESAs, on the other hand, do not necessitate any advanced specific training as their purpose is to provide emotional support and comfort to their owners simply by their side during tough times.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) grants PSDs broad public access permission, whereas ESAs cannot. 
  • A PSD can go wherever any average human can stay or travel to, implying that they can assist their owner to a store, library, arena, hotel, or beach where dogs are not permitted, but an ESA owner will not have the same advantage.
  • PSDs also have special rights when traveling on airliners, as determined by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and can continue to board flights free of charge, which ESAs no longer have.

What are the laws that protect a person with an ESA? 

Understanding how your ESA is legally and constitutionally protected is always a smart option because it will tell you exactly where your ESA letter comes to the rescue and how much you are lawfully protected in such scenarios.

An individual with an ESA is primarily protected by the following two laws:

The Fair Housing Act (FHA):

The FHA, or Fair Housing Act, requires rental accommodation service providers, such as landowners or property managers, to permit the liberty of living with ESA pets that give emotional support to an individual with medically qualified disorders in order to reduce a side effect or symptoms of the medical condition.

According to the Fair Housing Act:

  • Rental accommodation providers are not allowed to enforce restrictions based on weight, size, breed, etc. on ESAs.
  • The providers are not permitted to demand a comprehensive description of a tenant’s medical issues or past.
  • They will not be able to charge fees or deposits to the ESA’s owner.
  • Housing service providers could only refuse an ESA if allowing the ESA to stay would put an undue financial strain on the homeowner, or if the landlord specified the problems the ESA might cause to the health or safety of others.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA):

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) obligates the aviation companies to permit your ESA pet to take flight in the plane cabin with you. Nevertheless,the guidelines are subject to change depending on the size and species of your ESA. 

It is also important to note the rules will vary depending on which airlines you are planning to book the flights. So, it is advised that you must be cautious when traveling and do your research in advance.

The common rules for ESAs which ACAA impose for airlines include: 

ESA animals will be accommodated in the airplanes.

There will be no fees associated with your emotional support animal.

  • ESA pets can be limited to one per passenger.
  • Airlines would not be able to prohibit ESAs based on their breed.
  • Unexpected ESA pets such as alligators, snakes, spiders, etc., will usually be refused entry.
  • ESAs would only be refused entry if it is determined that the ESA poses a health and safety related threat to the others present on the flight. 
  • Airlines cannot impose prohibitions on ESAs that weigh more. However, aircraft could refuse an animal if they decide that it is too big or too bulky to fit in the cabin. Always check the rules of the airline you plan to board to see how they deal with large ESA service requests.

What are the types of ESA letters? 

Letters are classified into three categories:

ESA Housing Letters: The ESA housing letters or ESA letters for housing enable you to continue living with your ESA in various rental accommodations like apartments and housing complexes. This particular document is compiled based on the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

ESA Travel Letters: The ESA travel letters permits you to move and travel freely with your pet on any major travel mode. This even includes the liberty to travel with your ESA pet in the cabins of any sort of international or domestic flights without having to pay for any sort of extra money.  This particular document is compiled based on the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). 

ESA Housing/Travel Letters: The ESA housing/travel (combo) letters, as can be understood by the name itself, are a mix of the other two letters.

What are the benefits of having an ESA letter? 

The following are the main advantages that have already made the whole acquiring ESA letters process become a trend:

  • It allows you to acquire ESA pets in order to assist with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues as well as stay connected to the real world.
  • Allows you and your pet to enter areas where animals are not permitted such as the “No Pets” apartments, hotels, housing complexes, restaurants, stores, etc.
  • An ESA letter can help you find a trustworthy travel companion as it would eliminate any practices that prevent them from living or traveling with their ESA.
  • You will be able to fly with ESA pets in any airline’s compartment without paying any extra money. 
  • It legally frees you from security deposits, various pet fees and other similar sorts of fees that landlords, house owners, travel agencies, or airlines might charge.

Who could sign the letter as a LMHP?

As previously stated, a practicing LMHP professional can write, sign, and issue ESA letters stating that your pet is an aspect of your therapeutic process. The following are all such medical professionals who can do so:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Behavioral Therapists
  • Addiction Therapists
  • Licensed Therapist 
  • Primary Care Physician 
  • Licensed General Physician 
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Therapists
  • Clinical Social Workers who are licensed
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologists
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers
  • Licensed Professional Counselors
  • Marriage and Family Therapists who are licensed
  • Doctors who are licensed to perform mental health tests

How to Get an ESA letter? (Both Offline & Online Step-By-Step Procedure)

There are two ways you can get an ESA letter – the traditional offline method and the modern online method. 

ESA Letter Offline Step-by-Step Process: 

  1. Consult with a therapist or other mental health professional who can confirm your psychological condition and also is familiar with the emotional support pet animals. 
  2. You will be asked questions to determine whether you are truly eligible for an ESA.
  3. After testing your condition, if the practitioner prescribes you a signed ESA letter, you will indeed receive it within a week of your meeting.
  4. The therapist can also set a date for you to return for your ESA letter.

ESA Letter Online Step-by-Step Process: 

  • Visit ESA letter providing websites like American Petco.
  • Complete the online evaluation form with your health and other required information. 
  • Answer a few questions about your ESA requirements. 
  • Choose the letter you require and submit the form.
  • Next, you have to enter your payment details. 
  • All your answers will be sent to a LMHP who will review and decide if an ESA is right for you.
  • All your responses will be kept confidential. 
  • When your ESA letter is complete, it will be emailed to you within approximately 1 to 3 days.
  • You can then download or print your ESA letter. 
  • You can then produce your ESA letter anywhere and anytime to anyone, be it homeowners or airline managers. 

How long is the validity period of an ESA letter?

  • The validity period of your ESA letter will be determined by the type of letter you have selected.
  • For ESA Housing Letters you won’t be required to update it on a yearly basis. 
  • In case of ESA Travel Letters, on the other hand, you will have to opt for a yearly evaluation with a therapist in order to renew it. 
  • So, It is worth noting that since you have been shown eligible for the ESA letter for one whole year, it certainly doesn’t mean you will be eligible the following year. 
  • The eligibility will be determined only by the LMHP.

Final Thoughts

With so much increase in mental health issues in the post-pandemic era, ESA pets have certainly become the need of the hour. These small creatures can make a huge difference in the lives of individuals who are struggling with psychological issues. Their selfless affection, love, and comfort can be immensely valuable in helping you cope with emotional or psychological issues as well as alleviating feelings of loneliness. 

So, if you believe you need an ESA pet, apply today!

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