Why LGBT+ elders need safe and specialized mental health support

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Prejudice and health inequality

Beyond LGBT+ issues, older adults within our community may be uniquely qualified to provide advice about some of the stigma associated with recent outbreaks like monkeypox and COVID-19.

Our community has enacted real change in this area, often fighting against governments and the media for better outcomes that many of us still benefit from today.

In the late 1980s, for example, the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP formed as a direct response to the horrible impact that epidemic was having on the LGBT+ population of New York.

While the LGBT+ community demanded that the government take action, HIV/AIDS was deemed a low priority because it was still seen as a “gay disease.”

Because public information about HIV and AIDS was so poor, some people – including many people in the medical profession – didn’t even want to be near queer individuals for fear that they would catch something.

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Hundreds of thousands of gay men, in particular, died due to inaction and stigma.

Groups like ACT UP staged powerful and effective campaigns to raise awareness and turn the tide of apathy. They succeeded, against all the odds.

As we face new epidemics and pandemics, consulting older members of the community can provide insight into how our society should learn from past mistakes.

It can also provide us with the courage and determination to fight for change today – no matter how uphill the battle may seem.

Mental health risks

As our elders fought for the health of future generations, so we have a duty to fight for the health of our elders.

LGBT+ people tend to be at a higher risk for mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, yet outcomes for LGBT+ people tend to be worse across the board.

Some of the factors involved (such as isolation and past experiences of prejudice and discrimination) are even more extreme for older people.

Healthcare practitioners may struggle to offer an intersectional approach, even when they work with older people or LGBT+ people – meaning LGBT+ elders who belong to multiple marginalised groups can face even more barriers.

As Jor-El Caraballo, co-founder of Viva Mental Health & Wellness, put it when speaking to The Paper Gown, “When clinicians don’t understand how someone might experience being gay and an immigrant, or trans and black, I think that this can cause misunderstanding or miscommunication in the therapeutic relationship, leading to early dropout in therapy.”

So, what can we do to make sure our elders are getting the mental health support they need?

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About Miles Oliver

Miles Oliver is an independent writer with a background in business and passion for politics, psychology, news, and simply helping people live happy and fulfilled lives. He has lived and traveled all over the United States and continues to expand his awareness and experiences. When he is not writing, he is most likely mountain biking or kicking back with a cup of tea.