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Introduction: Sexual and/or gender minority (SGM; e.g., lesbian, transgender, nonbinary, LGBTQ+) individuals are frequently exposed to various forms of minority stress that impact their mental health and wellbeing. Microaggressions, a form of minority stress, are defined as unconscious behaviors or statements directed at members of marginalized groups that reflect a hostile or discriminatory message. Microaggressions have been associated with several detrimental outcomes, such as depression and anxiety. Social support has been found to be an important protective factor for SGM emerging adults. Additionally, relationships with companion animals are an underexplored source of support that may be important for SGM individuals. This study aims to explore whether, and to what extent, social support from humans and comfort from companion animals moderates the relationship between SGM-related microaggressions and depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Methods: We partnered with five community organizations to recruit our sample, which consisted of 134 SGM emerging adults between the ages of 18 and 21 (Mage = 19.31). Approximately 98.5% of our sample identified with a sexual minority identity, 49.5% identified with a gender minority identity, and 37.3% identified as a racial/ethnic minority. All participants had lived with a companion animal within the past year, with the majority of participants living with a dog and/or a cat. We conducted eight simple moderation analyses to explore whether, and to what extent, comfort from companion animals and human social support individually moderated the relationship between two forms of microaggressions (i.e., interpersonal, environmental) and anxiety and depressive symptoms. Further, we ran four additive moderation analyses to investigate whether comfort from companion animals and social support from humans moderated the relationship between each form of microaggressions and mental health symptoms, when the other moderator was held constant.

Results: The results of our simple moderation analyses indicated that social support moderated the relationship between both forms of microaggressions and depressive symptoms (interpersonal: ΔR2 = 0.03, F(1, 125) = 4.74, ꞵ = -0.17, t(125) = -2.18, p = .03; environmental: ΔR2 = 0.02, F(1, 124) = 3.93, ꞵ = -0.19, t(124) = -1.98, p = .05). Our findings suggest that social support acted as a protective factor, because the relationship between exposure to microaggressions and depressive symptoms was not significant when participants reported high levels of social support. Comfort from companion animals also moderated the relationship between interpersonal microaggressions and depressive symptoms (ΔR2 = 0.03, F(1, 125) = 4.78, ꞵ = 0.18, t(125) = 2.19, p = .03). However, comfort from companion animals seemed to exacerbate the association between interpersonal microaggressions and depressive symptoms, as there was a positive and significant relationship between these two variables when participants reported medium or high levels of comfort from companion animals. The results of the additive moderation analyses found that the relationship between exposure to microaggressions and depressive symptoms was positive and significant when social support was low or medium and comfort from companion animals was high or medium. However, when social support was high, the relationship was no longer significant, regardless of the level of comfort from companion animals.

Discussion: Our results suggest that social support from humans may be a key protective factor that buffers the relationship between microaggressions and depressive symptoms. Further, these findings also highlight the need to continue investigating the complex role of relationships with companion animals on mental health outcomes for SGM emerging adults. In particular, longitudinal studies are needed to clarify the direction of these relationships, as we are unable to make causal inferences with this cross-sectional study. The results from this study have important implications for future research in this area and practice with SGM populations.

Publication Date



LGBTQ; microaggressions; mental health; companion animals; social support; minority stress; human–animal interaction


Social Work

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Shelby E. McDonald

Is Part Of

VCU Graduate Research Posters

The Moderating Effect of Comfort from Companion Animals and Social Support on the Relationship between Microaggressions and Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Emerging Adults

Included in

Social Work Commons