Skip to main content

LGBTQ+ People’s Mental Health and Pets: Novel Strategies of Coping and Resilience

Abstract

Health disparities persist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ+)-identified people, often shaped by minority stress through anti-LGBTQ+ stigma. Resilience and coping are important for LGBTQ+ people widely, especially through social supports, but further examination is needed into more diverse, expansive mental health assets. Companion animals, or pets, have significant positive mental health benefits in the general population, but more understanding is needed to validate LGBTQ+ people’s lived experiences of minority stress, mental health challenges, and pet-based sources of resilience. We employ the minority resilience framework to ask: What role do pets play in how LGBTQ+ people navigate and cope with stress? This U.S.-based study centers the voices of 45 LGBTQ+ people’s qualitative interview narratives characterizing the diverse coping and resilience-building processes they develop through pet relationships. Findings demonstrate diverse processes surrounding pets as contributing to resilience, as participants emphasized the unique beneficial emotional connections pets provided. Second, pet family members were conceptualized as vital sources of support that promoted thriving. Finally, pet relationships fostered happiness and life enjoyment that augmented participants’ life satisfaction. This study delineates more diverse understandings of how LGBTQ+ people manage stress through their pet relationships, which can provide vital information to service providers and policymakers in more holistically attending to marginalized communities’ health needs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Ahmed, S. (2010). The promise of happiness. Duke University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (2019). Definition of companion animal. Retrieved September 4, 2019 from https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/definition-companion-animal

  • American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). (2018). AVMA pet ownership and demographics sourcebook. Retrieved September 24, 2020 from https://ebusiness.avma.org/ProductCatalog/product.aspx?ID=1529

  • Badgett, M. L., Choi, S. K., & Wilson, B. D. (2019). LGBT poverty in the United States. The Williams Institute and American Foundation for Suicide.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brooks, H. L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K., Bee, P., Walker, L., Grant, L., & Rogers, A. (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: A systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bryan, J. L., Quist, M. C., Young, C. M., Steers, M.-L.N., Foster, D. W., & Lu, Q. (2014). Canine comfort: Pet affinity buffers the negative impact of ambivalence over emotional expression on perceived social support. Personality and Individual Differences, 68, 23–27.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Charmaz, K., & Belgrave, L. (2012). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. The SAGE handbook of interview research: The complexity of the craft, 2, 347–365.

  • Colpitts, E., & Gahagan, J. (2016). The utility of resilience as a conceptual framework for understanding and measuring LGBTQ health. International Journal for Equity in Health, 15(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-016-0349-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Daniel, H., & Butkus, R. (2015). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health disparities: Executive summary of a policy position paper from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine, 163(2), 135–137.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Everett, B. (2015). Sexual orientation identity change and depressive symptoms: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(1), 37–58.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferretti, L. K., & Bub, K. L. (2014). The influence of family routines on the resilience of low-income preschoolers. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 168–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fraser, H., Bartholomaeus, C., Riggs, D. W., Taylor, N., & Rosenberg, S. (2020). Service provider recognition of the significance of animal companionship among trans and cisgender women of diverse sexualities. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 22(1), 16–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., Simoni, J. M., Kim, H.-J., Lehavot, K., Walters, K. L., Yang, J., Hoy-Ellis, C. P., & Muraco, A. (2014). The health equity promotion model: Reconceptualization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health disparities. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(6), 653–663.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Friedmann, E. (2013). The role of pets in enhancing human well-being: Physiological effects. In I. Robinson (Ed.), The Waltham book of human-animal interaction: Benefits and responsibilities of pet ownership (pp. 33–54). Pergamon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedmann, E., Barker, S. B., & Allen, K. M. (2011). Physiological correlates of health benefits from pets. In P. McCardle, S. McCune, J. A. Griffin, & V. Maholmes (Eds.), How animals affect us: Examining the influences of human–animal interaction on child development and human health (pp. 163–182). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/12301-009

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Frost, D. M., & Meyer, I. H. (2012). Measuring community connectedness among diverse sexual minority populations. Journal of Sex Research, 49(1), 36–49.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grandgeorge, M., Tordjman, S., Lazartigues, A., Lemonnier, E., Deleau, M., & Hausberger, M. (2012). Does pet arrival trigger prosocial behaviors in individuals with autism? PLoS ONE, 7(8), e41739. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041739

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hale, C. J., Hannum, J. W., & Espelage, D. L. (2005). Social support and physical health: The importance of belonging. Journal of American College Health, 53(6), 276–284.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartwig, E. K., & Smelser, Q. K. (2018). Practitioner perspectives on animal-assisted counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 40(1), 43–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkins, R. D., Hawkins, E. L., & Tip, L. (2021). “I can’t give up when i have them to care for”: People’s experiences of pets and their mental health. Anthrozoös, 34, 547–562. https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2021.1914434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hayden-Evans, M., Milbourn, B., & Netto, J. (2018). ‘Pets provide meaning and purpose’: A qualitative study of pet ownership from the perspectives of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Advances in Mental Health, 16(2), 152–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Headey, B., & Grabka, M. (2011). Health correlates of pet ownership from national surveys. In P. McCardle, S. McCune, J. A. Griffin, & V. Maholmes (Eds.), How animals affect us: Examining the influences of human–animal interaction on child development and human health (pp. 153–162). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/12301-008

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Herzog, H. (2011). The impact of pets on human health and psychological well-being: Fact, fiction, or hypothesis? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(4), 236–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Irvine, L. (2013). Animals as lifechangers and lifesavers: Pets in the redemption narratives of homeless people. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1), 3–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jakubiak, B. K., & Feeney, B. C. (2016). A sense of security: Touch promotes state attachment security. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 745–753.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Janevic, M., Solway, E., Malani, P., Kirch, M., Kullgren, J., & Connell, C. (2019). National poll on healthy aging: How pets contribute to healthy aging. Retrieved from https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/148428/NPHA_Pets-Report_FINAL-040319.pdf

  • Knight, S., & Edwards, V. (2008). In the company of wolves: The physical, social, and psychological benefits of dog ownership. Journal of Aging and Health, 20(4), 437–455.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koerner, S. S., Kenyon, D. B., & Shirai, Y. (2009). Caregiving for elder relatives: Which caregivers experience personal benefits/gains? Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 48(2), 238–245.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lachman, M. E., & Weaver, S. L. (1998). The sense of control as a moderator of social class differences in health and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 763–773.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehavot, K., & Simoni, J. M. (2011). The impact of minority stress on mental health and substance use among sexual minority women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(2), 159–170.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McConnell, A. R., Paige Lloyd, E., & Humphrey, B. T. (2019). We are family: Viewing pets as family members improves wellbeing. Anthrozoös, 32(4), 459–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McConnell, E. A., Birkett, M. A., & Mustanski, B. (2015). Typologies of social support and associations with mental health outcomes among LGBT youth. LGBT Health, 2(1), 55–61.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McConnell, E. A., Janulis, P., Phillips, G., II., Truong, R., & Birkett, M. (2018). Multiple minority stress and LGBT community resilience among sexual minority men. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 5(1), 1–12.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McKeithen, W. (2017). Queer ecologies of home: Heteronormativity, speciesism, and the strange intimacies of crazy cat ladies. Gender, Place & Culture, 24(1), 122–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meehan, M., Massavelli, B., & Pachana, N. (2017). Using attachment theory and social support theory to examine and measure pets as sources of social support and attachment figures. Anthrozoös, 30(2), 273–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674–697.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meyer, I. H. (2015). Resilience in the study of minority stress and health of sexual and gender minorities. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(3), 209–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miltiades, H., & Shearer, J. (2011). Attachment to pet dogs and depression in rural older adults. Anthrozoös, 24(2), 147–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mueller, M. K., & Callina, K. S. (2014). Human–animal interaction as a context for thriving and coping in military-connected youth: The role of pets during deployment. Applied Developmental Science, 18(4), 214–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Müllersdorf, M., Granström, F., Sahlqvist, L., & Tillgren, P. (2010). Aspects of health, physical/leisure activities, work and socio-demographics associated with pet ownership in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 38(1), 53–63.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muraco, A., Putney, J., Shiu, C., & Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I. (2018). Lifesaving in every way: The role of companion animals in the lives of older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults age 50 and over. Research on Aging, 40(9), 859–882.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Newport, F. (2021). American public opinion and the Equality Act. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/340349/american-public-opinion-equality-act.aspx.

  • Padgett, D. K. (2017). Qualitative methods in social work research. Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perrin, P. B., Sutter, M. E., Trujillo, M. A., Henry, R. S., & Pugh, M., Jr. (2020). The minority strengths model: Development and initial path analytic validation in racially/ethnically diverse LGBTQ individuals. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 76(1), 118–136.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Putney, J. M. (2014). Older lesbian adults’ psychological well-being: The significance of pets. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(1), 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramirez, M. (2006). “My dog’s just like me”: Dog ownership as a gender display. Symbolic Interaction, 29(3), 373–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Risley-Curtiss, C. (2010). Social work practitioners and the human companion animal bond: A national study. Social Work, 55(1), 38–46.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Risley-Curtiss, C., Holley, L. C., & Wolf, S. (2006). The animal-human bond and ethnic diversity. Social Work, 51(3), 257–268.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rogers-Jarrell, T., Eswaran, A., & Meisner, B. A. (2021). Extend an embrace: The availability of hugs is an associate of higher self-rated health in later life. Research on Aging, 43, 227–236. https://doi.org/10.1177/0164027520958698

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rose, D., McMillian, C., & Carter, O. (2020). Pet-friendly rental housing: Racial and spatial inequalities. Space and Culture. https://doi.org/10.1177/1206331220956539

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenberg, S., Riggs, D. W., Taylor, N., & Fraser, H. (2020). ‘Being together really helped’: Australian transgender and non-binary people and their animal companions living through violence and marginalisation. Journal of Sociology, 56(4), 571–590.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saldaña, J. (2015). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz, R. M., Carlisle, Z. T., & Tabler, J. (2021). “Companion, friend, four-legged fluff ball”: The power of pets in the lives of LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness. Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720986908

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz, R. M., & Tyler, K. A. (2018). Contextual constraints and choices: Strategic identity management among LGBTQ youth. Journal of LGBT Youth, 15(3), 212–226.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz, R. M., & Tyler, K. A. (2019). ‘Life has actually become more clear’: An examination of resilience among LGBTQ young adults. Sexualities, 22(4), 710–733.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snapp, S. D., Watson, R. J., Russell, S. T., Diaz, R. M., & Ryan, C. (2015). Social support networks for LGBT young adults: Low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Family Relations, 64(3), 420–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tabler, J., Geist, C., Schmitz, R. M., & Nagata, J. M. (2019). Does it get better? Change in depressive symptoms from late-adolescence to early-adulthood, disordered eating behaviors, and sexual identity. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 23(2), 221–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tabler, J., Mykyta, L., Schmitz, R. M., Kamimura, A., Martinez, D. A., Martinez, R. D., Flores, P., Gonzalez, K., Marquez, A., & Marroquin, G. (2021). Getting by with a little help from our friends: The role of social support in addressing HIV-related mental health disparities among sexual minorities in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Journal of Homosexuality, 68, 269–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2019.1651112

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, N., Riggs, D. W., Donovan, C., Signal, T., & Fraser, H. (2019). People of diverse genders and/or sexualities caring for and protecting animal companions in the context of domestic violence. Violence against Women, 25(9), 1096–1115.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Testa, R. J., Habarth, J., Peta, J., Balsam, K., & Bockting, W. (2015). Development of the gender minority stress and resilience measure. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(1), 65–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomas, R., & Matusitz, J. (2016). Pet therapy in correctional institutions: A perspective from relational-cultural theory. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 13(2), 228–235.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tissot, S. (2011). Of dogs and men: The making of spatial boundaries in a gentrifying neighborhood. City & Community, 10(3), 265–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valdiserri, R. O., Holtgrave, D. R., Poteat, T. C., & Beyrer, C. (2019). Unraveling health disparities among sexual and gender minorities: A commentary on the persistent impact of stigma. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(5), 571–589.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ward, B. W., Dahlhamer, J. M., Galinsky, A. M., & Joestl, S. S. (2014). Sexual orientation and health among US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013. National Health Statistics Reports No. 77. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/24087

  • Wells, D. L. (2009). The effects of animals on human health and well-being. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 523–543.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: Pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science & Medicine, 61(6), 1159–1173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors dedicate this work to the LGBTQ+ people and their lovely companion animal family members whose stories inspired this research.

Funding

This research was funded by the College of Liberal Arts at Oklahoma State University.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

All authors contributed to the study and manuscript preparation commensurate with authorship order.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rachel M. Schmitz.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The university institutional review board (AS-19-74) approved this study.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 18 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schmitz, R.M., Tabler, J., Carlisle, Z.T. et al. LGBTQ+ People’s Mental Health and Pets: Novel Strategies of Coping and Resilience. Arch Sex Behav 50, 3065–3077 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02105-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02105-6

Keywords

  • LGBTQ+ people
  • Mental health
  • Pets
  • Coping
  • Resilience
  • Sexual orientation