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Member Research and Reports

Yale Study Finds Mental Health of Gay U.S. Veterans Linked with Age

Age plays a significant role in the mental and emotional well being of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) veterans of the U.S. military, new research led by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

Younger LGB veterans are significantly more likely to report lifetime depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder and current depression compared with older LGB veterans as well as younger and older heterosexual veterans, the study found.

Veterans (DT)

The population of older veterans, the vast majority of which is male, is increasing rapidly. It is estimated that there are nearly 900,000 lesbians, gay or bisexual U.S. veterans, many who are over the age of 65. The study participants were a nationally representative sample of 3,095 U.S. veterans between 21 and 96 years old. The study results are published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Especially in the context of the U.S. military, there are many reasons to think that the experiences of older and younger LGB individuals may be different,” said Dr. Joan Monin, assistant professor at the school and the study’s lead author. “Understanding older and younger LGB veterans’ unique challenges has important implications for mental health screening practices and interventions.”

There is ongoing debate about whether age confers LGB adults with greater resiliency or vulnerability to mental health problems. One theory is that younger LGB adults experience more stress because they are currently dealing with parental and/or peer rejection and potential workplace discrimination. In contrast, older LGB adults have more temporal distance from these stressors, which may have been resolved earlier in life.

The Yale School of Public Health study is among the first to address the issue of vulnerability versus resilience. Examining these questions is valuable because LGB veterans are likely to have experienced pronounced stress, as they belonged to an institution that sanctioned outright exclusion, which then evolved into the “Don’t-Ask, Don’t-Tell” policy. The U.S. Congress formally lifted this policy in 2011 and the U.S. military now does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The study also found that sexual minority veterans are more likely to have experienced trauma during their military service as well as in their childhoods. They reported worse mental health than their heterosexual peers and less social and emotional support.

The findings suggest that it may be beneficial to solicit older LGB veterans as a social support resource to help improve and/or protect the mental health of younger LGB veterans.  This study also provides evidence for the utility of tailoring interventions to improve sexual minority veterans’ health for older and younger groups, as they may have different social and coping resources.

The study was also conducted by Dr. Becca Levy, YSPH professor; Dr. John Pachankis, YSPH associate professor; Dr. Natalie Mota, a former post-doctoral researcher at Yale; and Dr. Robert Pietrzak, associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.