GLBTI seniors advocates have urged the Gillard Government to develop a national action plan to ensure GLBTI-friendly aged-care services and stop suicidal thoughts among GLBTI elders.

Gerontologist and GLBTI ageing expert Dr Jo Harrison said suicide among GLBTI elders needs urgent attention and a strategy for GLBTI aged care is critical.

“I can tell you things that have been said to me by elders in the course of interviews or discussions that refer directly to an expression of suicidal intent or having made what I considered much more formal preparations,” Harrison told the Star Observer.

There is no Australian study probing the rate of suicides or suicidal thoughts among GLBTI seniors, however, Harrison said the trend has been noticed by aged-care workers.

“It’s anecdotal but it absolutely can’t be ignored,” she said.

“Whenever suicide is raised or mentioned it’s very easy to go rushing to the statistics that do exist and can be quoted about gay youth suicide … but [suicide rates among GLBTI seniors] is not being researched.”

Suicide Prevention Australia reports, although there is an overall longterm decline, more elderly men die by suicide than any other age group.

“Once I found those statistics … this level which is unbelievably high of actual suicide amongst the elderly population generally, that immediately made me think what the hell is happening with our community in that mix,” Harrison said.

Last week the Star Observer reported the Department of Health and Ageing had allocated $1.1 million to tackle high levels of poor mental health and suicide risk in the GLBTI community.

The two-year funding will go to the National LGBTI Health Alliance’s MindOUT mental health and suicide prevention project.

Alliance Mental Health Working Group chair Dani Wright told the Star Observer while the MindOUT program will mostly tackle mainstream services for all ages, aged care will be included.

Alliance chair Paul Martin said a national action plan is needed to improve GLBT aged care across the board.

The calls come as the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into aged care, Caring for Older Australians, is due to be tabled in federal Parliament.

The draft report said the provision of aged-care services needs to be respectful and sensitive for GLBTI seniors, including training aged-care workers.

Harrison said any government action plan needs to involve GLBTI seniors.

“We have GLBTI elders who are out, who have incredible knowledge and ability and experience themselves as activists and advocates and leaders who established organisations,” she said.

“We need to make sure they are central and crucial to the decision-making about what happens.”

In the last 12 months the Department of Health and Ageing has funded ACON to develop a GLBTI aged care sensitivity training program and Queensland-based aged care support group Care Connect to assist GLBTI seniors.

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