3 Mental Health Considerations for Queer Elders
Queer elders have made a big impact on the world. Queer folks over the age of 65 were around during the Stonewall Movement in the 1960s and may have even campaigned to improve the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people around the world.
But, as queer elders enter later life, they may need to find new ways to protect and preserve their mental health.
There are over one million LGBTQ+ elders in the US today, and studies find that they are more likely to have poor mental health. LGBTQ+ elders are 2 to 3 times more likely to live with depression. This is likely due to previous experiences of abuse — 82% of elderly LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced violence or abuse due to their sexuality or identity in their lifetime.
Queer elders can still protect their mental health by finding the right therapist, spending time outdoors, and connecting with the queer community in meaningful ways.
Mental health is a major concern for everyone at the moment. However, queer elders may be particularly reticent to reach out to help and support from therapists. During their lifetime, therapy and psychiatric care may have been associated with harmful pseudo-treatments like so-called “conversion therapy”.
Queer elders can make the whole process easier by finding an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist. Unfortunately, this process can be tricky and tiresome. Social worker Amanda Frey explains that she “kissed many frogs before finding my current therapist.” Frey suggests that queer folks can expedite the process by being straightforward and stating what experience and knowledge are needed from a therapist before starting treatment.
Queer elders can also use LGBTQ+-friendly directories to start their search. Directories can help queer elders find and compare trusted practitioners before they enroll. However, not all listed therapists will be equal, and extra research may be needed to ensure it’s a good match.
Isolation and loneliness are common experiences among older folks. As we age, our social bonds weaken and we lose people who are close to us. Isolation may be particularly common in the queer community.
Journalist and author Steven Petrow explains that queer folks are “twice as likely as our straight counterparts to be single and live alone.” Petrow goes on to explain that this may be because “LGBTQ people have often found themselves rejected by family, friends, and community,” and that, until 2015, LGBTQ+ people were not able to legally marry.
Petrow suggests that queer elders “can impart wisdom and experience to younger LGBTQ people”. This form of intergenerational community building ensures that everyone can find the support they need and create meaningful bonds.
However, “making friends” is a challenge for anyone — regardless of age, sexuality, or gender identity. Instead, queer elders can consider taking up hobbies for older adults. Hobbies like book clubs and art classes are particularly useful, as they encourage conversation and can reveal interests and ideas that haven’t been explored before.
An active social calendar later in life can mitigate feelings of loneliness, reduce the risk of cognitive conditions like dementia, and improve older folks’ physical health. Connecting with the LGBTQ+ community can give queer elders the chance to impart some of their well-earned wisdom, too.
Mobility and Exercise
Mobility restrictions are extremely common amongst older populations: 35% of people over 75 have mobility issues, and the majority of those over 85 have difficulties moving on their own. Mobility limitations can cause other issues, as fears about falling and hospitalization may prevent queer elders from getting out into the community.
Policy changes are required to help queer elders age with pride and full mobility. Current health disparities between straight and LGBTQ+ people mean that it’s more difficult for queer elders to get the help they need.
Queer elders who can find inclusive exercise groups in their area should take advantage of the opportunity to work up a sweat amongst allies and other queer folks. Recent research shows that light aerobic exercise can improve the mental health of adults over the age of 60. The study suggests that low-frequency, gentle aerobic exercise is best for preserving and improving mental health.
As such, queer elders should consider joining groups that promote exercise like:
- Water aerobics
- Brisk walking or jogging groups
- Tai Chi
- Exercise with a licensed PT
These exercises carry a minimal risk of injury and can promote better mental health and overall well-being. Ideally, queer elders should be able to find inclusive groups to join, as discrimination and abuse can still occur within groups of walkers and swimmers.
Queer elders face unique challenges as they age. Many queer elders are more likely to feel lonely in old age and may struggle to find supportive community groups. However, older queer people can find the support they need by locating an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist who understands the challenges they face and how to overcome them. Queer elders may also find support by engaging in community outreach and working with younger activists who may benefit from their wisdom and experience.