Older lesbians' use of professional mental health services

Karen Giacalone, Fordham University


While older Americans do not utilize the mental health services they need, the situation may be worse for older lesbians with the same problems who also must face problems created by negative attitude and behaviors towards homosexuality. This discrimination not only creates unique mental health problems for older lesbians, but it also may limit their use of appropriate mental health services. Unresponsive agency policies, unknowledgeable or insensitive providers and the history of social harassment toward homosexuals may create particular difficulties for older lesbians when it comes to utilizing needed mental health services. Although the barriers faced by all older people along with sexual preference discrimination may decrease the likelihood that older lesbians will receive needed mental health treatment, there is an absence of knowledge about the use of mental health services among older lesbians. The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which older lesbians use professional mental health services and to determine the factors that influence their use of these services. To address this purpose, the Anderson-Newman (1973) model was applied in a stepwise hierarchical multiple regression analysis to determine the relative importance of certain independent variables with respect to service use among 162 lesbians ages 55 and over. Twenty variables were conceptualized as being of significance and organized according to the Anderson-Newman (1973) model into predisposing (four variables), enabling (twelve variables), and need (four variables) categories. In this study sample, the most important independent factor in the likelihood of using mental health services was related to the need variable, psychological distress. The likelihood of mental health service use was also enhanced by the enabling variable, confidence in mental health professionals and especially by the enabling variable connection to services. Predisposing characteristics (i.e. demographic) were far less important in the likelihood of an older lesbian using mental health services.

Subject Area

Social work|Womens studies|Gerontology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Giacalone, Karen, "Older lesbians' use of professional mental health services" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9967113.