After reading the recent piece in The Shield about emotional support animals, the staff of the USI Counseling Center feel that it is our professional responsibility to share some important clarifying information with the campus community.
We perceived the article as presenting a false dichotomy between having an emotional support animal and pursuing other forms of treatment, such as counseling or use of psychiatric medication. While it is true that emotional support animals can provide comfort to individuals struggling with various forms of mental illness, there is not yet sufficient scientific evidence to endorse use of a support animal as being on par with other, empirically-supported forms of treatment.
In addition, we felt that the article offered an inaccurate perspective on the safety of psychotropic medications, implying that any individual who uses such medications to treat mental illness is at increased risk of dying by suicide.
Psychiatric medications are generally safe and can be of tremendous value in helping individuals with mental illness to manage their symptoms and be fully engaged in their lives.
Given the stigma that already exists in our culture around mental illness and mental health care, it is important to recognize that counseling and psychiatric medications can provide safe, positive and life-affirming options for people who are in need of treatment.
Emotional support animals may be one form of intervention for symptom regulation in individuals with mild to moderate mental health concerns, but it is far from being the only intervention or the first-line treatment of choice.
The students interviewed for the article expressed that they were seeking a personalized approach to their treatment, and we would encourage anyone struggling with symptoms of mental illness to do the same – regardless of whether that includes use of psychiatric medication, participating in counseling, or pursuing another form of mental health care.
To learn more about the breadth of options for mental health care that are available to individuals seeking treatment, we recommend the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ resource page: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment
The staff of the USI Counseling Center