Understanding the Psychological Challenges Aging Gay Men Face

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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  • Randall


    April 3rd, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Think about all of the years that most men in the gay community have felt alienated and estranged from the rest of society, Think about carrying that burden around with you for so many years, then consider the negative ramifications that this could have on your health. In addition to that we are not allowed by society dictates to even legally share in the kind and loving relationships that we would choose because of most of you still being offended by the very thought of gay marriage. It saddens me to think that I am denied not only the legality of marriage but the chance to live a fulfilling life as a whole because of the way that many people still look down on me for my choice in a partner.

  • annalise


    April 3rd, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Sounds like these men could truly benefit from having a therapist specially trained in handling gay issues. Not just any therapist is going to be sympathetic to the specific needs that they face.

  • Taryn


    April 4th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    I lost a very good friend a few years ago to the horrors of AIDS. What a rift this has left for me in my own life and in the life of his partner and family. You have to watch someone who you love so dearly suffer so courageously against this disease which has proven to overall be unbeatable. I know of others who have lost not just one friend to the disease, but in some cases, their entire social circle. It can be pretty daunting to lose everyone that you love to AIDS, and feel like no one is doing anything about it, or that they even care.

  • Jenn


    April 4th, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Would not suppose that gay concerns are all that different from straight concerns- worries about relationships, finances, kids, etc. Worries are worries and stress is stress in the gay and the straight world.

  • Jasmine Moon

    Jasmine Moon

    April 5th, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    If they were allowed to marry then maybe a lot of these concerns over aging would be alleviated.

    We all want to be able to have someone to grow old with, and while there is no one stopping you from having a committed gay relationship, it sure must feel a little more validating to be able to legally marry the one you love and know that you can stay together just like any other couple.

    For some this may seem like a technicality but I think that for many gays and lesbians it is something that is important to them.

    So why not support and accept that?

  • travis


    April 5th, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    you cant change the thinking of millions of people but you can know their opinion doesn’t really matter and that it will eventually change for the better and try and tell yourself that you are better than the people who look down upon you..its bad enough that they face problems of old age,but to cope with the added pressure of discrimination sounds criminal on the perpetrators’ part..we need inclusive programs for these older folk.

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