General Discussion > Emotional Support Animals (publicly viewable board)

When to consider getting a letter


Hi, Iíve been on here a couple of times before, but my situation has changed and I though I would ask. I am a junior in college. My mom passed away unexpectedly at the end of last semester. I had been struggling with some mental health issues before all of that happened and needless to say, it made things complicated. I have not been formally diagnosed with a mental disorder because I am having a hard time finding a good fit with a councilor on campus but I have documented episodes of self harm and the depression is reaching a crippling level (itís all I can do some days to get out of bed and Iíve missed more class this semester than I ever have before).
I live in a university-owned apartment and I do believe that having an animal would help. Is it time to ask my doctor about this? I would be asking my primary physician because of my complicated relationship with the counseling center on campus.

You'd need to be in treatment for mental illness with some professional. It could be your PCP if they are treating you for mental illness but if they are not treating you for it then it must be with the professional who is treating you. Generally speaking, a PCP should be able to diagnose and treat mental illness though they may refer you to a specialist.

You must also be disabled. An acute situation is unlikely to qualify as a disability, but that is a discussion for you to have with your mental healthcare provider.

Of course you can and should discuss any medical concern you have with your medical provider and not worry about whether it is time. If you're concerned about your mental health you should discuss it with your PCP and any mental health specialist you are also seeing. There are treatments that can help, although you may have to be patient to find the right treatment for you.  If you are hurting yourself or thinking of hurting yourself call your PCP or other provider or go to a hospital immediately.

And Good For You, for wanting to do this right. 

I want to underscore one of Kirsten's points.  Emotional support dogs and/or psychiatric service dogs should never ever be substituted for competent medical care.  My heart goes out to people with limited access to good health care, because they can get shuffled around between incompetent clinicians and turn to dogs in desperation.  There is a big community out there of young people who claim to have conditions involving serious symptoms like self harm and seizures or syncopal episodes, and they disdain medical care, asserting that they do better with a dog.  I don't know where the truth lies in those situations, but I worry about them and the people who might be influenced by them.  When a MH clinician recommends a support dog for a patient who loves dogs and thinks it might help, this is a great thing.  It's similar to recommending other lifestyle changes, and clinicians should do more of that.  I hope you give this a lot of thought and do what's best for you.

The community Sandy referenced also concerns me in that by not having treatment or even a doctor's endorsement in having a SD they are putting themselves at risk. Should they need to defend their disability in a court of law it would be unlikely they'd be able to do so. Service dogs do not need a letter but a court can not rely on the patient's opinion that the illness is disabling. A medical professional must believe the illness rises to the point of disability for it to be considered, and even then the severity of the illness and the qualification of disability can be drawn into question.


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