Pet ownership among young people: associations with mental health, self-harm and other risk behaviours

Emily Vicary, from the University of Manchester, UK, was recently awarded £9,995 by SCAS to study the associations with mental health, self-harm and other risk behaviours amongst young people pets.

This is one of six pump priming grants that were awarded from Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) 2022 funding round.


Background: Self-harm is considered to be an indicator of extreme distress or a manifestation of a mental illness. Young people, aged 16-24, are thought to be the most at risk for engaging in repeated self-harm behaviours such as cutting the skin, breaking bones and ingesting toxic substances. Previous research highlights the benefits of informal support in the management of self-harm habits, specifically high-quality social networks decrease the risk of repeated self-injury. Pets are generally an overlooked facet within these support networks. A recent study highlighted how pets can increase personal pleasure, prevent suicide attempts and reduce the urge to engage in self-harm for adults with diagnosed mental health conditions. However, only less than 5% of this sample was comprised of young people, meaning the true impact of pets on the management of mental health conditions and self-harm remains uncertain in young people. 

Aim: To develop an understanding of the relationships young people have with their pets and how these relationships can help with the management of mental illness as well as reduce self-harm.

Design: We will work with young people to develop an understanding of how they experience mental health and self-harm and whether or not this is impacted by pet ownership. We will use online surveys and in-person interviews to collect this information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.