Advancing our understanding of how pet ownership impacts health and well-being among community dwelling people living with serious mental illness
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Objectives It is estimated that about 1 million (3%) Canadians will experience serious mental illness characterized by symptoms and impairments that are severe enough and of long enough duration to interfere with daily life (Canadian Mental Health Association, n.d; Kelly, 2002) including meaningful work and social engagement (Mental Health Commission of Canada, n.d.). Methods The purpose of this thesis was to develop the concept of pet ownership as an everyday North American occupation and to develop a theory of how pet ownership impacts on health and well-being. The first study used Rodgers’ (2000) evolutionary concept analysis approach to analyze North American newspapers and bestselling books. The second study used a grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006) to explore how pet ownership impacts (positively or negatively) on health and well-being among community dwelling people with serious mental illnesses. Data collection consisted primarily of individual interviews with 23 stakeholders with knowledge and experience related to pet ownership and serious mental illness. Results In study one, the findings demonstrate that pet ownership is a complex concept consisting of the attributes of: responsibility, investment, occupational engagement, entrepreneurship, relationships, morality, and attitude. Occupational engagement appeared as the central attribute. The Rubik’s Cube was used as a mental image representing the complexity of pet ownership. In study two, a theoretical model was developed that identified “transformation” through pet ownership as the overarching theme organizing the model of health and well-being through pet ownership. Transformation occurs through distinct processes at three levels: personal (psychosocial benefits), occupation (occupational engagement) and context (thinking outside the box of service delivery). Each main process consists of five subprocesses (e.g. unconditional love and acceptance is a subprocess of psychosocial benefits). Conclusion The two phases of this research highlight that pet ownership has a range of associated tasks, and that the performance and experience of these tasks is enabled by a range of competencies, meanings, and motivations. These are personal elements that could potentially be supported if service providers themselves developed foundational knowledge and skills, and if this knowledge and skill base was given legitimacy as a valid community support option.