For many older people facing increased rates of social isolation, loneliness, and even trauma responses to widespread homophobia and transphobia, the connection offered by HearMe makes a huge difference. / Photo By Shutterstock.com/ JOSE_ESCUDERO

Mental Health and LGBTQ Seniors

There are 1.5 million LGB adults age 65 and older in the U.S. For all seniors, aging poses many mental health issues — but for these LGB as well as trans and gender-nonconforming elders, mental health is an even more pressing matter.

Due to a lifetime of discrimination, LGBTQ elders are more likely than their straight cis peers to lack proper community support, adequate health care, and financial security, thus putting them at higher risk for mental health issues, according to a report from SAGE. LGBTQ seniors are at higher risk of being diagnosed with depression and anxiety and experiencing social isolation. Thirty-nine percent of LGBTQ elders have experienced suicidal ideation in their lifetime, and 31 percent have symptoms of depression — two to three times higher than the general older adult population in the U.S. These stats are higher for transgender elders: 48 percent have experienced symptoms of depression and 71 percent reported a history of suicidal ideation.

Past employment discrimination that today’s elders lived through may have made it more difficult for them to secure stable employment and save for retirement and aging, and health care discrimination often leads to a lasting distrust in psychiatrists and other health care providers — making health care needs more difficult to seek out for LGBTQ elders.

We’ve seen that a history of discrimination and stigma oftentimes led to higher rates of unemployment,” Sherrill Wayland, the Senior Director of Special Initiatives and Partnerships at SAGE, told Georgia Voice. “We’ve known that LGBTQ older adults historically lacked employment protections. So, if we think about our oldest LGBTQ elders, they grew up at a time when they did not have employment protections, when it was very common for people to be fired because they identified as [LGBTQ] or to not even be hired because people might’ve assumed things about their sexual orientation and gender identity. These factors lead to higher rates of unemployment, and not being able to save money, which can then lead to higher rates of housing instability and food instability … If you have stable housing, then your mental health and your health overall [are] more like to be strong.”

Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation, which has seen an increase in recent years and more often targets LGBTQ youth, also has a severe mental health impact on LGBTQ elders.

“We’re seeing so much anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric that’s happening and legislative concerns that are targeting LGBTQ people,” Wayland said. “We know that these bills and things that we’ve seen across the country are largely targeting our youth, but we also know that that has a negative impact on our older adults. So anytime we start to see this negative LGBTQ political rhetoric, it’s impacting both our youth and our older adults. For older adults, if they’ve had a lifetime of experiences with discrimination, stigma, and potentially violence, this can be trauma-inducing. It can almost be similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

SAGE combats these unique mental health stressors by offering LGBTQ seniors resources to help them find reliable housing and financial support. They also recently launched HearMe, an app dedicated to connecting seniors with somebody to listen.

“HearMe is one of our newer programs,” Wayland said. “It’s LGBTQ-owned and -operated. The program is really there to help provide that sense of support for someone. Somebody who’s registered for the program can send a text to the HearMe number and be connected with a volunteer who’s there to really listen to their concerns.”

For many older people facing increased rates of social isolation, loneliness, and even trauma responses to widespread homophobia and transphobia, the connection offered by HearMe makes a huge difference.

“What we’re seeing from the data is that people are reporting by the end of their conversation that their mood is better,” Wayland said. “Their mental health is being positively impacted just by that connection.”

 

LGBTQ seniors who are dealing with a serious mental health crisis are urged to call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to receive immediate help. To find aging resources and sign up for HearMe, visit sageusa.org.