PG 20 PAW PRINTS

Pets (Singapore) - - Contents -

In light of Men­tal Health Aware­ness month, we shed light on emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals. Plus, check out our lat­est lineup of new prod­ucts.

Emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals (ESA) were rel­a­tively un­heard of here un­til a cou­ple of months back, when on­line news re­ports of a Florida woman flush­ing her “emo­tional sup­port” ham­ster down the toi­let sur­faced. The story goes that 21-year-old col­lege stu­dent Be­len Alde­cosea had a flight to catch, and her ESA-cer­ti­fied pet ham­ster wasn’t al­lowed on board. A Spirit Air­lines em­ployee pur­port­edly ad­vised her to let the ham­ster loose out­doors or flush it down the toi­let—the woman chose the lat­ter and is now con­sid­er­ing su­ing the air­line.

So what ex­actly are ESAs? These are an­i­mals that help to al­le­vi­ate and com­fort those who suf­fer from men­tal health is­sues and emo­tional in­sta­bil­ity. While this cat­e­gory of pets is un­com­mon in Sin­ga­pore, it is pop­u­lar in the U.S.. How­ever, Dr Jessie Chua, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist from The Re­silienz Clinic, points out that an ESA is not a recog­nised form of men­tal health ther­apy. “It can assist the pa­tient in daily liv­ing—such as giv­ing a per­son with de­pres­sion a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity so that they will get out of bed each day—but it is not psy­chother­apy,” says Dr Chua.

ESAs are com­monly used to treat de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der, and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. “The com­pany and un­con­di­tional at­ten­tion from an ESA is of­ten sooth­ing. Hav­ing to take care of a life tends to change the suf­ferer’s per­spec­tive from one of hope­less­ness to one of re­spon­si­bil­ity. It also helps him/her find pur­pose and mean­ing in life, and im­proves con­fi­dence and self-ef­fi­cacy, which all aid in re­cov­ery from men­tal ill­ness,” says Dr Lim Boon

Leng, psy­chi­a­trist with Dr BL Lim Cen­tre for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Well­ness.

Typ­i­cally pre­scribed by a physi­cian or med­i­cal profres­sional as a method of treat­ment, ESAs are still con­tro­ver­sial as some pet own­ers in the U.S. have been known to abuse the sys­tem by fak­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion so their furkids can be al­lowed on flights with­out an ad­di­tional fee. “There are hardly any guide­lines to be­gin with, ex­cept that a pro­fes­sional men­tal health provider has to cer­tify that a pet is an ESA,” says Dr Lim. Dr Chua adds that there hasn’t been much re­search or reg­u­la­tions on ESAs lo­cally.

Al­though not recog­nised here by gov­ern­ment bod­ies, Dr Lim be­lieves that ESAs have the po­ten­tial to be ap­proved for men­tal health treat­ment in Sin­ga­pore as well. “It is not un­like get­ting a pet and should pose lit­tle prob­lem for the most part, as long as ESA own­ers are sen­si­tive to our na­tion’s unique multi-cul­tural so­ci­ety.”

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