Gay and sexual minority older men have lived a very different life than their much younger counterparts. When gay men in their fifties and sixties were in their youth, being openly gay was frowned upon, HIV was rampant and taboo, and sexual discrimination was commonplace. Today, there is a much broader acceptance of and openness within the gay community. As people age, they often deal with declining health, death, loss and financial insecurity. All of these factors can have a significant impact on their mental well-being. But for aging gay men, the added stressors that they endured during their lifetimes can exacerbate these issues. Richard G. Wight, Ph.D., of the Department of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently led a study designed to identify the factors that most influence the mental and physical health of aging older gay men.
For his study, Wight analyzed data from one of the largest HIV/AIDS studies in the United States, the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. The 202 participants ranged in age from 44 to 75 years and completed surveys that inquired about specific minority stress-related factors that affected them. Wight discovered that the men worried about some of the same issues as heterosexual men, such as financial independence and physical health. However, there was a direct link between being gay and depression. Wight said, “Perceived gay-related stigma appears to have diminished positive affect and to have heightened depressive symptoms, and excessive experience of HIV bereavements may have intensiﬁed the experience of depressive symptoms.” Wight did find, however, that the emotional support that the gay men had through personal relationships protected them slightly from depression.
Similar to other findings, the results of this study also showed that the gay men who were in committed relationships had the highest levels of psychological health. Because same-sex marriage has recently become legal in more states, Wight believes that further research should be conducted examining the positive effects of marriage on gay men. In addition, that research should explore other psychological conditions, such as substance use and anxiety, as outcomes in this segment of the population.
Wight, R G., LeBlanc, A. J., De Vries, B., Detels, R. (2012). Stress and mental health among midlife and older gay-identified men. American Journal of Public Health 102.3, 503-510.
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