23 September - Bi Visibility Day. Bi as for Bisexual but also biases.
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Is anyone celebrating today?
According to a 2016 J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group research, 52% of young people (between 13 to 21) do not identify as strictly straight, ranging on the Kinsey scale between 1 and 5 (Kinsey scale aka the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale; one of the oldest and most widely used scales to describe sexual orientation) including bisexuality.
The increasing normalization of other than straight, lesbian or gay sexual identities amongst the young generation could, in theory, contribute to reducing bi-phobia (widespread anxiety surrounding bisexuality).
However, as of now, in 2020 we cannot deny many stereotypes and prejudices surrounding bisexuality still persist. This in turn plays a major part in taking a toll on mental health of people who identify as bisexual.
A 2017 study shows that bisexual individuals are at higher risk for poor mental health outcomes compared to heterosexual as well as lesbian and gay individuals and experience minority stressors, such as discrimination, from both heterosexual and sexual minority communities.
Non-monosexual people are often misunderstood, being categorised as simply gay, thus invisible. They are often labelled as greedy, promiscuous, STDs carriers, or ‘it’s just a phase, it will pass’ / confused. By the GL community, bisexuals are often deemed as untrustworthy and better to avoid when it comes to dating and romantic relationships. Furthermore, their identity and rights within the LGBTQIA+ community may be overshadowed (which also applies to transgender, asexual, intersex).
Importantly, experience of bisexual people is unique and differs from the experience of straight people as well as their GL allies. The prejudice they face from each line brings specific mental health issues.
What are some of the mental health issues bisexual people face?
Societal pressure to fit people in two boxes leads to bisexuals being less at ease with their sexuality and they tend to come out to their families, friends and co-workers less than GL people.
A Canadian study found bisexual men to be 6.3 times more likely, and bisexual women 5.9 times more likely, suicidal than heterosexual people (in both groups this was also higher than rates for gay men and lesbians) [source: San Francisco Human Rights Commission (2010). Bisexual invisibility: Impacts and recommendations]
Bisexual people have negative experiences with health professionals. A US study found that more than a quarter of therapists with bisexual clients assumed that sexual identity was relevant to the goal of therapy when the client didn’t agree, and around a sixth saw bisexuality as being part of an illness. Many therapists were openly uncomfortable about bisexuality. [source: (2007). A systematic review of the research on counselling and psychotherapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people. Leicester: BACP.]
A UK Mind study found that a third of bisexual men reported that health professionals had made a link between their sexuality and a mental health problem. [source: (2003). Mental health and well-being of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in England and Wales].
Some of the above-mentioned studies suggest that bisexual men, in particular, experience more psychological distress than gay men. In many cases they explained their sexuality as the reason for self-harm.
Ways to support bisexual people…
As mental health specialists, we hold a lot of power, therefore it is important to be aware of the societal and internal biases. Being in a position of power means the stereotypes we hold can have a negative impact on the lives of vulnerable people.
Be aware how stereotypes can affect people’s diagnosis and treatment – for example if someone is assumed to be ‘confused’ about their sexuality, will it be assumed they are confused in other areas?
Be open to learning more - there are a lot of weird psychological theories about bisexuality. We counsellors should always remember that everyone is the best expert on their own life and experiences.
Be aware of the effects of bi-phobia.
Be proactive in challenging bi-phobic behaviour – bi-phobia may come from lesbian and gay as well as straight staff and service users.
Make services as inclusive as possible for everyone - Bisexuals may have experienced exclusion in services for lesbian and gay people. Make it explicitly clear that bisexuals are welcome to use LGBT services.