New Study: Lgbt Seniors Struggle With Suicide
Isolated from family and largely living alone, LGBT seniors in San Francisco contemplate taking their own life at an "alarming" rate, a new study has found.
It is estimated there are anywhere from 18,000 to 20,000 LGBT seniors living in San Francisco, with the population increasing each year as the median age of the city’s residents grows older.
A survey of 616 LGBT city residents aged 60 to 92 years old, the results of which were released this week, found that 15 percent had "seriously considered" committing suicide within the last 12 months.
While mainstream and LGBT media coverage in recent years has shed a national spotlight on LGBT teen suicides, leading to such efforts as the It Gets Better video project, the study findings show it is an issue many LGBT people grapple with well into adulthood.
"I am surprised it isn’t higher," said Hadley Hall, 80, a gay San Francisco resident.
He has had friends commit suicide after they determined to take their own life to end their suffering brought on by failing health.
"It was their decision to do it because they couldn’t get the palliative care they needed," said Hall.
Commissioned by the city’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force, the study also found "relatively high rates of disability" in addition to "poor physical and mental health" among the participants. Previous research has shown that both health issues are associated with increased risk of depression, "which in turn can increase the risk of suicide," noted the report.
The survey was the first to ask about suicidal tendencies within the timeframe of the last 12 months rather than over the course of a person’s lifetime, said out lesbian lead researcher Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health.
"In some cases we have seen a similar percentage for over a person’s lifetime, but to see 15 percent considering suicide within the last 12 months is very concerning," she said.
Were heterosexual seniors to be asked a similar question, Fredriksen-Goldsen predicted that the number saying they had contemplated suicide within the last year "will be significantly less" than the 15 percent the LGBT senior study found.
"We need to figure out what is unique within older LGBT adults and why they are contemplating suicide," she said during a presentation Tuesday, July 9 about the study findings.
The researchers recommend that city officials create a suicide prevention program that is specifically targeted at LGBT older adults. Task force member Ashley McCumber, a gay man who is executive director of Meals on Wheels of San Francisco Inc., told the Bay Area Reporter that he agrees the suicide contemplation statistic "is a marker we need to pay attention to" and that the panel needs "to address LGBT seniors’ isolation and mental health."
San Francisco Suicide Prevention is currently developing a "best practices" approach to suicide prevention among LGBT seniors that other cities throughout the Bay Area can emulate. The agency received funding from the state Mental Health Services Act to fund the work and is hosting a special training next week for LGBT people.
Executive Director Eve R. Meyer said the survey finding "tragically, I think, is not surprising because for a lot of LGBT seniors the living arrangements they have enjoyed change and living independently often becomes an option not available to them and they are often forced to live in extended care facilities of one kind or another."
In such a setting many LGBT seniors are pushed back into the closet, fearful of telling staff or other residents about their sexual orientation or gender identity, noted Meyer. That can exacerbate their risk for depression, she added, causing them to consider suicide.