Midlife and older gay men in the United States have lived through a remarkable period of crisis and change. On the heels of the burgeoning gay rights movement in the 1970s, the AIDS epidemic robbed these men of many of their friends and partners beginning in the 1980s.
For all of the social progress in recent years, this group has endured discrimination throughout their lives, with many feeling the need to conceal an important aspect of their identities. And now they have reached a time in their lives that many men, regardless of their sexual orientation, find stressful.
Richard Wight, a researcher in the Department of Community Health Sciences in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, has recently studied mental health trajectories of midlife and older gay men against the backdrop of these societal shifts.
Wight and his colleagues, including professor Carol Aneshensel in the Department of Community Health Sciences, have drawn from an invaluable resource—the Los Angeles site of the ongoing Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study(MACS), one of the world’s largest and longest-running studies examining the natural history of HIV/AIDS. Led at UCLA by Dr. Roger Detels, professor of epidemiology at the Fielding school, the study has followed the lives of nearly 5,000 HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay and bisexual men at four U.S. sites since 1984 through twice-annual assessments.
“It dawned on me that we have three decades’ worth of data,” says Wight. “This was an opportunity to see how the historic societal changes affecting gay men have intersected with the natural aging process.”