College years can be stressful for any young person. For those suffering from mental illness, the pressures can be overwhelming. Johnson State College in Vermont decided to take practical steps to make life easier for these students. The school lets them keep emotional support animals, called ESAs, in their dorm rooms, in the classroom and around the campus. Kate McCarthy, Director of Wellness at the college, said it is a natural extension of the school’s commitment to each student’s success, and an effective way to help those with mental illness navigate four years of college. Lots of Animals Right now the school is home to 27 ESAs, including fish, hamsters and cats. Comfort comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. A purring cat is perfect for one type student, but another does better watching his goldfish gently swim round and round its bowl. Holding a wiggly hamster in her hand brings comfort to yet another. Alicia Eddy, a freshman prone to anxiety attacks, holds and plays with Mulan, her Chinese dwarf hamster. She said watching him roll around with his toy ball keeps her calm. Why Do ESAs Have a Positive Effect? McCarthy points out that the body reacts chemically when a person watches and interacts with a critter. This activity triggers a release of higher levels of oxytocin, the hormone that keeps humans happy. People have bonded with animals since the beginning of time, and there’s a practical reason for that. Talk to anyone who hugs her dog as soon as she comes home from a hard day at the office. She’ll rave about how calming and reassuring that hug feels. For people fighting mental illness, the need for feel-good hormones like oxytocin is just that much higher. These animals are also great conversation starters, a big help for students who are self-conscious in social situations. Attention is focused on the animal, not the owner. Taking Care of Another Living Thing Mental health professionals have long realized that making a depressed person responsible for the care of an animal gives them an interest outside their own mental pain. Ariel Corey, a sophomore at the school, cares for her cat, Little Bear. She feels strongly that it is invaluable to her mental state to have another living creature that loves her no matter what. She says that cuddling with her cat makes the world look just a little bit better. Knowing that another living creature, whether fish, hamster or cat, relies on them for the basics of life makes a depressed, anxious or otherwise mentally ill person feel needed. In fact, according to McCarthy, this alone can derail suicidal thoughts. “It really gives you a purpose, and it’s those little things that can make a big difference,” she said. Practical Help for Emotional Support Animals Emotional Support Animal Registration understands how important an emotional support animal is for a person suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental challenge. That’s why they offer free registration on the website for these animals. All it takes is 3 simple steps and a few minutes to register your ESA. The site also has information resources to help you cope when you travel with your animal, look for housing and other situations. The website has an ESA store with products that can make your life and that of your animal much easier. These include ID cars, vests, recommendation letters and tags. Check out USA Service Dog Registration today. Read the articles and take a look at the store. You and your support emotional support animal are not alone.