May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, making it an opportune time to discuss some of the mental health challenges that the bi community faces.
In 2019, there was a remarkable TEDx talk by Misty Gedlinske which briefly covered some of these disparities. If you haven’t watched it already, I highly recommend it. But to summarize some of the highlights:
- Bis are 52% of the LGB community, but are often a “silent majority”.
- Bis are 6× more likely to hide their orientation from others.
- Only 44% of bi youth report they can be open about their identity with a trusted adult.
- More than 1/3 of bi adults do not disclose their orientation to medical providers, which can cause higher rates of Anxiety, Major Depression, and many physical health conditions to be underrepresented and untreated within the community.
- Bi youth and adults report higher rates of binge drinking, tobacco use, and substance abuse than their lesbian or gay counterparts.
- Bi women experience sexual assault and intimate partner violence at a rate 30% higher than their straight & lesbian counterparts (Thus making them predisposed to develop certain trauma disorders, like Acute Stress Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
- 40% of bisexual adults have considered or attempted suicide.
These statistics are disheartening, to say the least, and one may assume that they mean bis are inherently flawed or defective. But this isn’t the case.
As Gedlinske goes onto explain, “The problem is not being bisexual. The problem is how other people misunderstand it, and respond poorly to it.”
Bis experience what researchers are referring to as “double discrimination” or “dual-marginalization” as they often receive homophobia from their straight peers and biphobia from their gay and lesbian peers.
The lack of fitting into either world is detrimental to our existence as we can be faced with stigma and ostracization by those we seek support from in both the straight and queer worlds.
This leads to social isolation, which breeds the mental health challenges listed above. If one feels they have nowhere to turn to for love and acceptance, what other options do they have?
It has been proven time and time again that social isolation can be a key factor in addiction and it further exacerbates depression, which is why so many bi individuals may turn to substance abuse for comfort or consider suicide when they feel completely hopeless and alone.
The invisibility and erasure that bis face is also to our detriment. Not only may there be a lack of support, but a lack of representation and understanding, leading us to feel that we are not allowed to exist, we are not seen or embraced by others, thus worsening those feelings of loneliness and desperation to belong.
An article in the Journal of Bisexuality in 2021 confirmed all of these themes and noted that discrimination can alter sleep patterns, thus leading to impaired mental and physical health over time. So consequently, bis who belong to other marginalized groups, such as those who are also transgender, people of color, disabled, etc. may be at higher risks of having altered sleep patterns due to the intersectional discrimination they face, thus potentially predisposing them to have worse or a greater amount of negative health outcomes.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of intersectional discrimination. As a Black, mixed-race woman of color with chronic mental health conditions, invisible physical disabilities, and former foster youth, I belong to many marginalized communities aside from my sexual orientation. I identify as a pan-romantic demisexual and sapiosexual (if that’s not a mouthful, I don’t know what is!) and I’ve faced biphobia from relatives when I expressed interest in dating women. I was either threatened with violence, laughed at, told that it was “just a phase”, or made to think I was just saying it “for attention” when I was being serious and honest about my feelings. I had to cut off a friend who was outwardly biphobic, saw no problem with it, and became upset with me when I respectfully confronted her about it. As if living in this world isn’t already taxing enough with other daily stressors these experiences only exacerbated my mental health issues and added small traumas to my collection.
Luckily, going to college, learning about our community in a LGBTQIA+ Studies course, connecting with others in amBi Los Angeles, and speaking with affirming therapists has helped me cope tremendously over the years, and for this, I’m forever grateful.
Just know that if you are bi and feel the toll of this double discrimination on your mental and emotional health, you are not the one who needs to change. Society does.
Once more for those in the back.
You are not the one who needs to change. Society does.
Luckily, more research is being done on the unique mental health struggles our community faces and advocacy for more awareness and visibility within the medical community is taking place to educate practitioners of these discrepancies. The creation of assessments and interventions that are mindful of our community is on the horizon, and hopefully, clinicians will utilize this knowledge and these tools to help us, sooner rather than later.
Know that you are not alone.
If social isolation and loneliness are one of the biggest contributors to substance abuse and depression, what are their opposites? Connection and community.
Join organizations like amBi, visit your local LGBTI Center and attend the bi events, find your community. When you become connected with others who share your identity and have similar lived experiences, it can drastically improve your mental health and give you that sense of belonging and acceptance that is so crucial to our wellbeing.
If you haven’t sought therapy, do so! Speaking with a mental health professional will allow you to gain insight into yourself, receive validation, and help you learn coping skills for any mental health challenge you may be facing. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever as many therapists are offering TeleHealth services, meaning they’re only a phone call, Zoom meeting, or text message away!
If you’re interested in being paired with a therapist from the LGBTI community, visit websites like Inclusive Therapists, Unmute, Ayana Therapy, Mental Health Match, The Gay Therapy Center, and The National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network, who each have the goal of serving individuals from intersectional, marginalized demographics with therapists from these backgrounds specifically.
And if you are having suicidal thoughts, don’t be afraid to get help. Tell a trusted loved one, visit your nearest hospital if you are at serious risk of hurting yourself, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-(800)-273-8255
As Gedlinske so beautifully says, “The only person you’re obligated to save is you.”