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Thoughts on the Impact of Pets on LGBTQ+ Young Adults

From personal experience, living away from my dog—who is with family due to travel restrictions during the pandemic—has been just one among many difficult losses over the last year. This is Julia writing; I’m a new volunteer at Berkshire HorseWorks, and I want to share a study about LGBTQ+ young adults and the animals in their lives. Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work is looking at the impact that pets have on the lives of LGBTQ+ young adults (aged 15-21). The study began in 2018 and has evolved during the pandemic to include the ways in which pets have affected participants’ time in quarantine.

Interviews for the study are ongoing, and they offer a chance to gain more understanding about how young LGBTQ+ community members are uniquely impacted by their animals. A peripheral glance at a greeting card aisle or YouTube’s home screen is enough to reinforce the huge part pets play in our society. Accordingly, I was surprised to find out that almost no studies look at the specific experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. The limited amount of research concerned with the intersection of animals and members of the LGBTQ+ community has been in relation to middle-aged/older adults.

Coming out to one’s family and friends is an experience that can range from affirming to traumatic, and many LGBTQ+ individuals have legitimate concerns over their safety and losing family members. Even if you don’t worry about negative reactions, finding someone capable of being both nonjudgmental and supportive can feel impossible. That’s why—as I know from experience—having a dog (or cat, fish, horse, perhaps a pet rock, etc.) can be so helpful. For some, the pandemic has provided a unique (and perhaps frustrating!) amount of time with their pets. Without access to larger communities of queer young adults, animals can provide at least some support despite the tremendous loss of in-person connection.

In the midst of struggling with my identity and how to articulate it, being with my dog gave me a break and an all-too-rare experience where someone cared more about who I was (or what treats I could offer…) than anything else. While being around people can sometimes feel fraught with tension or danger, spending time with animals offers a space where you won’t be judged for your pronouns or choice of partner.

Thoughts from a College Junior – Mental Health, COVID-19, Isolation, and the Benefits of Getting Outside.

Hello! My name is Olivia, I’m a Junior at UMass Amherst, and I’m currently interning at Berkshire HorseWorks. As a psychology major, I think mental health is extremely important. Everyone deals with difficult times, but it’s not often that the whole world is fighting the same battle together.

Although people of all ages are affected, the younger generations have been hit particularly hard. According to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “25.5 percent of adults between the ages of 18-24 reported having seriously considered suicide due to the pandemic.” The survey went on to discuss “how anxiety disorder was three times and depressive disorder was four times what was reported in the second quarter of 2019.”

As a young person, I can attest that things have been particularly difficult. It’s true there are new ways to stay connected: Students and employees are now learning or working online, and friends can stay connected over zoom. In fact, people in some ways are finding themselves closer together: college kids and adults are all home, meaning there is more time to spend with one’s family. But, personally, its challenging not to see my friends. After a while, the isolation, even with family, takes a toll. I experienced first-hand, the disappointment of being sent home mid semester and forced to take classes online at home instead of being at my college campus.

However, finding ways to get outside – even for a little while – has positively affected my mood. I have found that being at the ranch and interacting with the horses has helped relieve some of my stress. From spending time grooming and hiking with them, to getting a chance to sit in on EAGALA sessions with Hayley, I’ve both learned a lot and felt less alone. BHW offers equine-assisted programing and opportunities, whether you want mental health support in the form of Psychotherapy or just to get out of the house for some fresh air in the presence of horses. If you’re someone feeling particularly isolated by this pandemic, just know that you are not alone and we would like to help!

Reference:

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

STAYING OUT

Imagine experiencing the freedom of being yourself for the first time. There you are, suddenly accepted as a new being, basking in the lack of suffocating expectations and singing with the potential of a whole new world to explore. But then, the bars clamp down and your newfound freedom evaporates as you’re told to go back to your “old self”. For many LGBTQ youth, this is exactly what has happened. According to a report on NPR on July 20th, 2020 (here), queer college students and young adults have struggled with the question of moving back in with their anti-LGBTQ parents during Covid-19, a move which has had serious implications on mental health.

According to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ mental health for those under the age of 25, a whopping forty percent of LGBTQ individuals considered suicide in the last year; that number was substantially lower for those with supportive families and communities. However, the coronavirus quarantine has in many cases substantially reduced access to these supportive communities. For many, this means going back in the closet. All evidence points to the fact that a lack of emotional resources will have a negative effect on mental health and suicidality.

But there is hope. Now that Massachusetts is opening up, there are more and more ways for people to travel outside their homes safely. Even in the absence of structured environments for students such as schools and camps, finding acceptance outside one’s immediate surroundings is now more possible than it was before. Berkshire HorseWorks’ program “This is Me” is available for LGBTQ youth struggling to express themselves and find their voice. The ranch has recently reopened with a COVID-clean facility, enforcing social distancing and hosting their therapeutic workshops outside, where the risk of Covid-19 is lessened. If you or a loved one is struggling with expression or mental health issues, you don’t have to struggle alone. Through Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) our horses can help individuals and families navigate difficult circumstances, and come to understand one another better. LGBTQ, straight or other, let us be there to support you.

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