Opinion: Emotional support animals: A true, healing treatment option

Posted on Oct 1 2018 - 5:50am by Cami Macklin

Stress and anxiety disorders are slowly plaguing thousands of college campuses all over the country. According to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association, 61 percent of college students were seeking counseling because of anxiety, and 45 percent went because of stress. This study indicates that many students experience troubling and difficult disorders. These students’ parents and, possibly, friends are encouraging them to visit their university’s counseling center. A 2014-15 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that almost 75 percent of their participating colleges reported an increase in severity of student mental health concerns. Ole Miss was not included in the survey, but the state of Mississippi has the lowest access to insurance and mental health treatment. This is deeply concerning considering the increasing prevalence of mental health issues within our college community.

So, while some college students are visiting the university’s counseling center, some college students have visited licensed psychologists and have been assigned an emotional support animal. These animals can come in a wide variety, including dogs, cats, mice, hedgehogs and even miniature pigs. The important thing to remember is that these animals provide some type of relief to their owners. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, can benefit people diagnosed with physical and mental disabilities, such as stress or anxiety disorders. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, “There is very clear research showing that the presence of an animal, as well as petting an animal, helps individuals to reduce daily anxiety.” This is one of the many benefits that animals can have on a person. Another benefit includes the potential regulation and stabilization of intense emotions of the affected individual. Klapow describes that support animals can support people when their emotions are deregulated. When a person is highly agitated or anxious, the mere presence of the animal can slowly calm the person. Despite all of these benefits, some organizations do not allow these animals into their establishments. Some of those organizations are colleges and universities around the country, including our own.

The University of Mississippi has been in the news within the last couple of weeks because a student’s emotional support dog was no longer welcome in the classroom with her because of complaints about the animal. If an animal is properly trained, it should be allowed to follow its owner, wherever he or she goes. The purpose of the animal is to support its owner in cases of panic attacks or PTSD triggers. If the animal is not allowed to be with the individual and an attack occurs, the university could be liable for injury if something bad enough happens.

To avoid all of these possibilities, Ole Miss and other universities should update their laws and regulations about support animals as they become much more common. The world is constantly changing and so should colleges and universities around the nation. School is supposed to be our home away from home, but decisions and regulations like these prevent that from happening.

Cami Macklin is a junior pre-pharmacy major from Terry.