It's World Mental Health Day today... and in theory, wherever you are on this planet, there'll be awareness-raising, "empowerment"-giving, celebrity-profiling discussions on the subject.
In the UK, over the past few days/weeks there's been lots of media coverage about mental health: yesterday on Radio 4 there was discussion about David Blunkett and Alistair Campbell's depression; last night on Channel 4 it was an expose of the shocking conditions in some mental hospitals; today on the radio, someone from BT was talking about provision for their staff. Then there was the two-part series with Stephen Fry interviewing celebrities (and the very occasional civilian) about being bi-polar/manic depressive.
Now, this has significance for bi people in general. Whenever anyone has researched the topic, they come to the conclusion that bisexuals (defined how precisely, I wonder?) have worse mental health than straight people, or lesbians or gay men.
Statistics that do your head in
It's only recently that studies have been made that separate bi from gay people. For an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2002, Anthony Jorm et al, conducted a community survey of 4824 adults in Canberra, Australia, looking at anxiety, depression, suicidality, alcohol abuse, positive and negative affect and a range of risk factors for poorer mental health. Compared with heterosexuals and homosexuals, bisexuals had the worst mental health, scoring highest on measures of anxiety, depression and negative affect.
Another British study, published in collaboration with Mind (the mental health charity), looked at the mental health of LGB people - including 85 bi men and 113 bi women. Using "snowball sampling", they recruited several thousand lesbians, gay men, heterosexuals and bisexuals, to compare rates of mental health, quality of life and experiences of mental health services. Gay men and lesbians were compared with heterosexuals and with bisexuals. Unsurprisingly, heterosexuals did best.
There were some interesting findings. Using a scale to measure "psychological distress" heterosexual men reported least, and bisexual men most, with gay men and women in general somewhere in between. Levels of substance abuse were higher among gay men and lesbians, but bisexual men were more likely than gay men to have recently used recreational drugs. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals were all more likely to have been bullied at school than were heterosexuals, with 51% of both gay and bi men, and 30% of lesbians and 35% of bi women reporting it.
Gay men and lesbians were - according to the writers of the study - "more at ease with their sexuality" than were bi people. The former were more likely to be out to their friends and family, colleagues, doctors or health professionals. However, more bisexuals than lesbians/gay men reported that mental health professionals had made a causal link between their mental health problems and their sexuality. 64% of gay men and 74% of bi men had had a positive reaction from their mental health practitioner about their sexuality. Women fared less well: 58% of lesbians had received a positive reaction, but only 39% of bi women had.
Not all in the mind
There are a number of reasons why bisexuals might suffer from "psychological distress". (Of course, I'm not even giving page space to the anti bi ideas of instability etc.) Try some of these: lack of support from friends and families; keeping a significant part of yourself quiet; lack of recognition from the wider society; fear of relationship breakdown; fear that there is something wrong with you; a feeling that bisexuality in and of itself is wrong; and that you will never meet anyone else like you.
The mental health of bisexual people has always been significant within the bi community. Fritz Klein, for instance, one of the founding fathers of the bi movement in the States, was a psychiatrist and wrote extensively on the positive attributes of bisexual people. And the first positive thing I ever read on the subject Bisexuality: A Study by Charlotte Wolff - sadly long out of print - was also written by a bi psychiatrist.
Now there's a new book edited by bi psychotherapist Ron Fox, most conveniently bought here. Affirmative Psychotherapy with bisexual women and bisexual men - for therapists dealing with bi clients - looks at the issues that might arise and how to help unhappy bisexuals become happy ones. I'll write about it more when I've had a chance to read it. Bi psychologists in the UK are also trying to draw together research on bisexuality that will allow it to be taken seriously in the same way as is lesbian and gay psychology.
World Mental Health Day also has personal significance for me. I've suffered from depression on and off since I was 15 and, at various times, both my parents had it too. In certain places, it's considered stigmatising to refer to a person as "suffering from" a disease or condition: you are a person with depression or whatever. No. NO. NO. You have depression, believe me you suffer from it.
However, rack my brain as I might (both within and without therapy), I can't see what being depressed has to do with me being bisexual and this, I think, is a major-league problem with the "bisexuals have worse mental health than anyone else" stats. If I went to the doctor and said I was depressed and I was bisexual, then it sounds as though the two would be conflated anyway.
For depressed people in general, though, there's plenty of things to help out now that simply weren't there when I was a 15-year-old lying on my bed wondering what was the point of life when we are all going to die anyway. Not least of these is much better anti-depressants, but there is also a great deal of research about what works and support to help prevent things getting too bad.
Now, this helps. And for people trying to improve the mental health of others, I particularly admire these people. And this self-help group.
And if anyone knows of any bi-specific depression support groups, please let me know.
Categories bisexuals+mental health depression