Emotional support animals can be of great help to people suffering from mental illness, including anxiety disorders and depression.
A pet can help keep a person grounded during a panic attack, give someone a sense of purpose, reduce social anxiety, and provide comfort. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about emotional support animals, and many people confuse them for service animals.
Emotional support animals are classified as a different type of assistance animal than service animals. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals aren't automatically allowed into stores, restaurants, and other public places.
The only legal benefits granted to an emotional support animal are the right to bring the animal into the cabin of an airplane (provided they're well-behaved) and protection from housing discrimination. A landlord can't deny someone's application because of an emotional support animal, even if the housing doesn't normally allow pets. The pet's owner must be legally disabled and have a prescription from a doctor before it can be certified as an emotional support animal.
Service animals, on the other hand, are granted extra rights and can't be asked to leave of any areas open to the public. Only dogs (and the occasional miniature horse) can be registered as service animals. While a service animal could be used for mental illness, there are strict requirements. The dog must be able to help their owner with specific tasks, such as reminding a patient to take medication.
There are more training requirements for service animals, and the dog needs to be housebroken, well-behaved in public, and always under the control of the handler. Service dogs can be used for psychiatric disabilities but are not the same as emotional support animals, and they must do more than simply provide comfort.
An emotional support animal can be life-changing for patients with a mental illness. It's important to understand the laws, however, and to be aware that these animals are not the same as service dogs.