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UK Politics

Why the UK needs to change its emotional support animal legislation

‘Emotional support animals – the Uk’s outdated discriminatory legislation’

The UK is plagued with inequalities, one important area overlooked by our current legislation is that of Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Before we get into this, let’s answer the question, what’s the different between a support animal and a service animal?

Support animals Vs. service animals

In the UK there is a legislative disparity between ‘support’ and ‘service’ animals, but why?

The most well-known service animal is likely, the ‘guide dog’. These animals provide invaluable support for people with visual impairments in the form of a 24/7, non-judgemental, four-legged companion that allows them to reclaim their independence.

Because of the training guide dogs undergo for their role they are viewed under the category of ‘service animals’, and are permitted to enter shops, restaurants, rented accommodation etc. Yet animals, including guide dogs, also offer tangible psychological benefits.

The Psychological benefits guide dogs can elicit can be explained in terms of the confidence and freedom that they provide to their owners. Yet, there is also an inherent ability to for animals to soothe and comfort individuals in distress, making them the ideal companions for those struggling with mental or emotional difficulties.

These animals come under many names but are generally known as Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Countless research investigations have shown the positive effect of ESAs in depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Yet, if you were to request permission to take an emotional support animal into your workplace or even your own rented accommodation you would almost certainly be refused entry.

Requesting an ESA at my university accommodation started off well with my landlord claiming they were ‘invested in the well-being of all tenants’ and recognised the tangible support ESAs offer. Yet within the same email my request was denied because legally they had no obligation to permit an ESA. Naturally, I questioned this decision. If they were so concerned with our well-being, why wait until they are legally obligated to allow an ESA when they could decide to allow them…

To this I was merely told ‘our position has not changed’.

This made me wonder, why is there such a distinction between animals that ultimately provide an improvement in people’s well-being? The answer, the UKs dodgy legislation…

Legislation

In the USA ESAs are recognised on similar, if not the same, level as service animals. Yet in the UK companies, landlords, and workplaces are more than free to turn disabled people with ESAs away if they wish to. The reason for this is…confusing.

The distinction between service animal and support animal is generally made on the basis of training. A guide dog is trained to provide support for people with visual impairments whereas emotional support animals – largely – undergo very little training.

The issue with this distinction is that it discriminates on the basis of needs. A guide dog acts as the eyes of an individual, which requires a great deal of training. The need of a person with emotional or mental health related difficulties arguably come much more naturally to these animals. A dog elicits a positive feeling in most people just by their very nature, they are of course known as ‘man/woman’s best friend’.

Yet because they are not trained for their role they are seen more as pets than as service animals in the UK. I take issue with this as the contribution of an ESA is not measurable in terms of training received and not comparable to those offered by a guide dog. These are distinctly different animal roles for distinctly different problems. The UKs inaction on this matter highlights its laissez-faire attitude to supporting those with mental illness and hidden disabilities.

Hidden disabilities

This oversight by UK legislation is a shining example of how hidden disabilities are not taken anywhere near as seriously as they should be. Change is long overdue yet when the issue is brought up it becomes a discussion of ‘whose disability is worse’.

Both experiences of people with physical and mental disabilities are deserving of respect and worthy of support. To compare them serves no purpose other than to juxtaposition one as lesser than the other. To denounce treatment options for one group because its method does not require training or tangible or physical benefits just as guide dogs do is absurd.

In the UK, if a person has a mental health condition for over a year it is classified as a disability. For anxiety you can be provided a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Yet, when it comes to support animals our legislation has absolutely no concern with the well-being missed out on by our out-of-date laws. Yet, it appears we are stuck in endless debate with the ill-informed, unwashed masses.

The ‘devil’s advocate’ people – what disability looks like

Many things we take for granted were once outlawed by outdated legislation. We look back and say ‘well that’s just how it was’. Yet when new changes are proposed they are almost always met with derision and criticism, regurgitating the line that if something is written into law then it must be morally and ethically correct.

With any proposed amendment of change to legislation there are always people happily playing devil’s advocate. The apparent need compare two different things on an axis that makes one appear absurd is tactic often used by traditionalists, ‘if we allow this, what will be next?’.

These people argue that ESAs are more like pets than service animals, and that the legal recognition for service animals should remain only for animals that support ‘truly’ disabled people. These are the same people that harass blue badge users for not ‘looking disabled enough’. These people feign concern for ‘truly’ disabled people to excuse their ill-informed policing of disabled people’s rights.

Despite only 8% of disabled people in the UK requiring a wheelchair, in the eyes of the devil’s advocate people, if you’re not in a wheelchair you’re not disabled. Through their outdated view of what disability looks like they see support options for non-wheelchair using disabled people not as levelling the playing field but as an unfair advantage. Such people have always been around, this does not mean we need to listen.

Closing thoughts

It’s time to listen to people who would benefit from this change in policy and work out a way for ESAs to be given the same rights as service animals and help defeat this mental health epidemic we face in the UK.

Have your say here: Make ESAs Legal UK.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support options part two

We’ve discussed the treatment options available to us through your GP or therapy, but what else is there to choose from?

There are some options remaining that you can look into from the comfort of your own home, though, I will state for the record. It is important to discuss any treatments you want to try with your GP. There are less regulations around these treatments so it’s important to look into their legitimacy, reviews and any potential risks.

Without further ado lets get into it

Herbal home remedies

Anxiety and depression can trigger dissociation, so it may be worth looking into some herbal or home remedies if pharmaceuticals aren’t your thing.

St Johns Wart, lavender roll-ons, aroma therapy are all options to help you destress and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed. Be sure to check in with a doctor if you are on any other medications and you should first discuss it with them before you start self medicating.

Another topical treatment is CBD. I won’t get into the details but CBD is being viewed as a very helpful drug with little to no risk. CBD is made from marijuana extract but without the chemical THC. This chemical THC is what makes you feel high, its psychedelic properties are what you often associated with weed. CBD however, will not get you high and is totally legal. What’s more, research from King’s College LDN has even shown it have preventative properties when it comes to psychosis and has been shown to aid depression, anxiety and insomnia. All of which can help reduce dissociation.

When shopping around be sure to check reviews and ensure you know what dosage you’re getting. Start small and build up. Also, ensure you check for any side effects with any medications you’re on. I’m currently of an antidepressant that interacts with CBD so that it becomes metabolized by the body in excess, resulting in an increase in my medication dosage. Which could risk overdose. So be sure to look into this if you’re on any meds!

Third wave therapies

Meditations, hypnosis and mindfulness can all help with anxiety symptoms and reduce your levels of stress. In particular, mindfulness has been touted as a particularly effective treatment for dissociation.

I’ve been told, dissociation is characterised by a disconnection with everything around you, while mindfulness is characterized by a deliberate awareness of everything around you. This cognitive opposition may explain why mindfulness is seen as an effective treatment for dissociation.

However, it is suggested to be most effective when added to your daily routine. The emphasis is on learning mindfulness and integrating this mindset into your everyday life. It is not a magic solution and cannot stop dissociation when it occurs but generally can limit the severity and length of dissociative episodes if adopted into your routine.

Hypnosis sessions can be useful if you suffer with insomnia. From personal experience I find myself more anxious and more likely to dissociate if I’m tired. So hypnosis for sleep can help reduce this!

Grounding ideas – for when it’s too late

Once you’re feeling dissociated, many of these techniques may not be much use to you. That is, other than mindfulness. Techniques such as mindfulness ground you in the present, in the environment and pull you out of the dissociative blur.

The best way to do this is to incorporate your senses. What can you see? Touch? Smell? Can you name 5 things you see?

Some particularly useful methods may include heat. A cold shower, splashing cold water over your face, or holding ice in your palms have been praised for their effectiveness.

Additionally, familiar smells may help. This may be sad to admit but I had a particular room spray in a period of my life I look back on fondly. The smell itself relaxes me. The same may be true for you!

Anything that gets you invested in the present can help you in your fight against dissociation.

Resources

There are an abundance of online resources for you to choose from. So please, take a look. These resources have helped me in my understanding and appreciation for my dissociative experiences.

Carolyn Spring’s blog: https://www.carolynspring.com/blog/

Grounding tools: https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/trauma-dissociation-and-grounding/

Youtube: Multiplicity&Me, DissociaDID

Mind resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/self-care/

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support resources: part 1

As we’ve seen, dissociation is highly complex and variable phenomenon. With it’s roots in our past experiences, influencing our present this hard to define disruption to our perception can be tricky to live with. But what treatment options are available to us?

Let’s take a look at the main treatments available, note treatments will vary depending on your location. This summary is based on those available in the UK.

Pharmaceutical treatments

Unfortunately there are no medications that can fix or reduce dissociation directly. Dissociation exists in a relative blind spot for pharmaceutical companies. However, it is not all bad news, there are medications out there that can indirectly help with dissociation.

If you came to a doctor or mental health professional with depressive or anxious symptomology you’re more than likely going to be put onto anti-depressants. The most commonly prescribed and most-side-effect-free being SSRIs. These Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors provide individuals with a much needed relief from their most intense symptoms.

SSRIs won’t influence your mood instantly, as they take a number of weeks to take effect, but for many they provide a much needed lifeline. For those that experience dissociation as a result of environmental or personal stress such as PTSD, BD, BPD, or anxiety disorders such as OCD, these medications can significantly reduce negative symptoms. As we’ve discussed, dissociation can occur when an individual becomes overwhelmed so these SSRIs can help prevent this from occurring and by extension reduce instances of dissociation or by the very least reduce the severity of episodes.

Therapies

NHS options

There are multiple therapies available to individuals with mental health concerns. Though, the focus is generally on dealing with anxiety and depression. Dissociation is something less familiar to most in the industry so it’s important to find someone that knows what they’re talking about.

In order to find a therapist that knows their stuff it’s worth consulting with your GP or health care provider to see if you can work out the best option available to you. A good rule of thumb to remember is that – generally – trauma centres will have more knowledge and expertise on dissociation than the average therapist. So it may be worth looking there for options and even worth contacting them to discuss it with them before you request a referral.

Through the NHS you can fairly easily be assigned a therapist, but you may have to wait a while due to unfortunately long waiting lists. However, it’s important to find the right therapist, try not to settle if you feel your therapist isn’t the best fit for the job. You’re allowed to not get on with a therapist, you can request a change.

Private options

If you can afford it, and not all of us can, it may be worth seeking a private counsellor or therapist that specializes in dissociative disorders. While it can be pricey, you get the benefit of freedom of choice. You can identify therapists near you using the counselling directory, which allows you to include specific areas of expertise. What’s more, many therapists are happy to discuss their skills and knowledge before you start treatment so it’s worth emailing a brief summary of your situation, symptoms and goals, and asking them if they think they could help.

The downsides of this of course, are the costs. Dissociative disorders can be hard to shake, so fees can stack up over time. What’s more you may have to relay some information to your GP or health care provider from your therapist if you require medication or specific referrals. They can communicate but when it is NHS-NHS inhouse it can be easier for the client as they are not stuck in the the go-between role.

Specialist dissociation clinics

If you have severe dissociative symptoms you do have the option of going to see a specialist. In the UK there are currently three clinics set up that specialize in dissociation. These are, The Pottergate Centre, The Clinic for Dissociative Studies, and The CTAD Clinic. Each other these specialise in dissociation and offer the best and most informed treatment options.

Of course, the downsides of these are that they’re incredibly hard to get referred to. The Pottergate Centre is open to private treatment but if you’re looking for an assessment this will cost you at a minimum £500 and more likely over £1000. If you’re trying to get a referral through the NHS you will be required to jump through a lot of hoops.

It is likely you will be told that, because these clinics exist outside of your clinical group (your local NHS trust) you will need to be referred by secondary care and display tangible reasons for why the care provided locally is not sufficient.

This will require you getting an assessment from a psychiatrist, the waiting lists for which are…lengthy. For context, I told my GP I wanted to be referred to one of these clinics in August 2020 and so far I have spoken to a psychiatrist for 15 minutes and given another appointment in three months time. During this whole time I have been fighting to get this referral but without any luck.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it won’t be a walk in the park.

For the next instalment of support, take a look at our self-help resources.