The research shows that high percentages of LGBT older adults—especially transgender people and people of color—are dealing with mental health issues that dramatically affect their quality of lives as they age. Additionally, because many LGBT elders came of age during an era when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, the relationship between LGBT elders and the mental health field is complicated. In turn, many LGBT elders delay seeking the mental health care they need for fear of encountering discrimination and bias in those settings.
While many LGBT older people report a general satisfaction with their mental health, showing the resilience that comes from having survived a lifetime of discrimination, many also deal with mental health concerns. A national health study on LGBT elders found that 31 percent of respondents reported having depressive symptoms at a clinical level, with more than half having been told by a doctor that they had depression. In many areas of mental health, people of color and transgender people show higher rates of mental distress.
Research shows that many LGBT older adults have thought seriously about suicide in their lifetimes. According to a national health study on LGBT elders, 39 percent have seriously thought of taking their own lives at some point. Transgender respondents—at 71 percent—were more likely to have considered suicide than non-transgender respondents.
Social isolation, including profound feelings of loneliness, also dramatically affects the mental health of LGBT elders. The latest research shows that 59% of LGBT elders feel that they lack companionship, 53% feel isolated from others, and 53% feel left out. The same study found that transgender elders experience higher levels of loneliness.
Because many LGBT elders have lived a lifetime of stigma and discrimination, including having lived through an era when sexual orientation was pathologized as a mental illness, they might delay seeking care that could detect and treat various mental health concerns. For transgender people, where the psychiatric discussions regarding gender identity are still evolving, this phenomenon could be especially complex. Read a report on transgender older people. ▶
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