Opinion: It’s time to stop looking at bisexual mental health through LGBT+ lens

A participant watches the EuroPride 2010 parade in the streets of Warsaw July 17, 2010 Image: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

By Lewis Oakley, a bisexual, UK-based, activist.

When researching the state of mental health for bisexual people, two things are clear: first, their mental health problems are worse than the average person’s, and second, there aren’t many people working on a solution.

Some of the most prominent research available comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which found that bisexual people are nearly 80 percent more likely to report feeling anxious than the average person, and are 40 percent more likely to describe themselves as unhappy.

The ONS found that bisexual people have lower life satisfaction, and feel less worthwhile, than straight, gay and lesbian people do.

A report by Pink Paper painted an equally alarming picture for bisexual people in the UK, concluding that they have above-average mental health problems, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide.

We are good at documenting the effects of mental health problems, but not so good at pinpointing the causes. What are some of the factors driving these alarming figures? Why are bisexuals suffering?

One major factor impacting the mental health of young bisexual men is a feeling of inadequacy, when approaching love interests.

Imagine all the insecurities a straight male is confronted with when he approaches a woman, now add the fear that this woman might see his past with men as him struggling to accept he is gay, that she might interpret his mannerisms as ‘too feminine’.

This is something neither straight nor gay men can truly empathise with; their past relationships embolden them, but bisexuals live in a culture where our past romances are scrutinised.

How many women out there are willing to date a man who has a past with men? Bisexual men know that, for some women, their sexuality is a deal breaker.

The issue here is not just about rejection. Bisexual men can also feel like they are not ‘man enough’ to attract a woman.

Ask yourself, how many bisexual people do you know?

Sadly only 12 percent of bisexual men, and 32 percent of women, are actually out of the closet, which means the majority exist in secret, terrified to share their identity with those closest to them.

This also means many bisexuals have no-one like themselves to turn to for support.

Equality Network found that 85 percent of bisexuals do not feel like they are part of the bisexual community.

This in itself isn’t shocking, as the UK doesn’t have any specific venues for bisexuals, like it does for gay people. There are no widely used bisexual magazines or apps, which leaves many bisexuals feeling isolated, without a proper support network.

Another emotionally draining factor is the great source of guilt bisexuals can feel, usually as a result of hurtful comments their partners have to endure.

Research has shown that 84 percent of self-identified bisexuals in committed relationships have a partner of the opposite sex. They can become victims by association.

As these examples show, bisexuals suffer in different ways to other members of the LGBT+ community.

While much work has been done to monitor the mental health problems of bisexual people, we are still a long way from finding solutions to turn the tide.

The issues raised in this article barely scratch the surface of all the mental health challenges faced by bisexual people. As more people are identifying as bisexual than ever before, it is time that we start taking these issues much more seriously.

(The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and the article was first published on November 13th, on trust.org, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers human rights issues).

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