Depression, Loneliness During Winter Months Can Lead to Increased Risk of Suicide for LGBT Elders
For many LGBT individuals, especially elders, the winter months can be a cold and lonely time. For some, feelings of sadness and depression can take a deep hold, and lead them to consider suicide. It’s important that those who may be experiencing isolation or depression, and the people close to them, understand the warning signs and risks of suicide during the winter months. Support and assistance is available to those who need it. Kate Bishop, education coordinator at the LGBT Health Resource Center, offers the following advice to elders coping with loneliness and depression.
What types of health disparities do LGBT individuals, particularly elders, face that makes them more susceptible to these feelings?
Statistically, older LGBT adults have a much higher risk of social isolation than either younger LGBT people or other older adults. Studies have found that LGBT elders are half as likely to be partnered, twice as likely to live alone, and four times more likely than their straight peers to be childless. Added to that loneliness, the accumulated impact of a lifetime of trauma due to severe prejudice and discrimination often leads to compromised physical and mental health for our elders.
A national health study on LGBT elders found that 31 percent had clinically diagnosable depression. Across the lifespan, our community suffers from significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol and tobacco abuse, cardiovascular disease, HIV, and diabetes. These are all chronic conditions which may worsen as we age, adding physical hardship and chronic pain, decreasing mobility, and increasing emotional distress, which in turn can lead to further isolation from friends, family, and community. Sadly, a national study showed that 39 percent of LGB older adults and 71 percent of transgender elders have seriously considered taking their own lives.
What effect can the winter months have on these feelings?
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. The dark, cold, shortened days of winter have been shown to cause or exacerbate depression symptoms for many people. In addition, it’s just harder to get around through ice and snow, especially for folks who have limited mobility. When you’re constantly low-grade exhausted, everything seems dark and kind of terrible, you don’t really feel like talking anyway, it’s freezing, the walk is not shoveled and maybe you’re a little unsteady on your feet, and getting out of the house to get some exercise or spend time with friends can seem overwhelming. Of course, that’s the time you most need the endorphins that come with moving your body and the support of caring people.
What are a few of the major warning signs that an individual might present?
The biggest indicator may seem obvious – if a friend says they are thinking of suicide, please believe them! Most folks do tell someone of their plans before attempting to end their life. Other signs include cutting back on social interaction, loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy, a preoccupation with death, lack of concern about personal safety, foregoing self-care, medication regimens, or personal grooming, experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss, feeling hopeless and/or worthless, putting affairs in order, giving things away, making changes in wills, stockpiling medication or obtaining other lethal means, and foreshadowing remarks such as “This is the last time that you’ll see me” or “I won’t be needing any more appointments.”
Where can LGBT individuals and elders turn for help if they are contemplating suicide, or feeling lonely or depressed?
Fortunately, there are many kind ears out there ready to support those who are struggling. National hotlines like SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) at 1-888-234-SAGE, the National Institute on Aging’s Older Adult Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can help.
In Baltimore, Hearts and Ears is an organization created to support LGBTQ people dealing with mental health challenges; call 410-523-1694 or e-mail email@example.com to find out about groups or talk to someone who will understand. Group and/or individual counseling can be a wonderful holiday gift for yourself – call Chase Brexton’s Behavioral Health department for an appointment at 410-837-2050 x8810, or check the therapists who advertise in this paper. Last, social support has been proven to be extremely helpful in working through dark days, so keep an eye out at Facebook.com/chasebrexton.lgbt/ for monthly social opportunities for LGBT people over age 50 through our SAGECAP program at the LGBT Health Resource Center.
For or more info about LGBT elder care, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 410-837-2050 x1049, or visit Chasebrexton.org/LGBTElders.
The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care is to provide LGBTQ individuals and their families with welcoming access to expert health information and resources that will enhance wellness and quality of life. For more info, visit ResourceCenter.lgbt.
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