Friday, August 31, 2012

Bisexuality and depression

For long as I’ve been writing this blog, one of the main ways new people find it is by searching for “bisexuality and depression”. I find that really sad, but nothing like as sad as the statistics about bisexuality and mental health.

  • A major Canadian study found bisexual men 6.3 times more likely, and bi women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people
  •  A large Australian study found rates of mental health problems among bi people to be higher than those among lesbians, gay men, or heterosexuals.
  •  The UK Mind report on the mental health and wellbeing of LGB people found that bi men and women were less at ease about their sexuality than lesbians or gay men, and less likely to be out.
Bisexuality and mental health is currently a big issue in the bi community. This summer’s BiReCon (the British conference that looks at current research on bisexuality) had bisexuality and mental health as its theme.

At the conference, the speakers focused on what research is currently being done by (bi) psychologists and (bi) activists and considered how mental health professionals could better serve the needs of bi people.

The Bisexuality Report,  which came out earlier this year, also looked at the bad health – mental and physical – experienced by bisexual people. It collated a lot of existing research, including that listed at the top of this post.

Until now, most research on sexuality and mental health has lumped research on lesbian, gay and bisexual people into one queer mass.

What the Bisexuality Report did was to look at how bisexual people (as distinct from lesbians and gay men) experience discrimination and prejudice. It’s fair to say that this discrimination and prejudice has a strongly negative impact on everyone who don’t simply identify as straight or gay.

This includes:

Bisexual exclusion, erasure, invisibility

  • Many people, even now, know of no one in their daily lives who is bisexual. 
  • When people at large, or organisations, say lesbian, gay and bisexual, they really mean lesbian and gay. Or sometimes just gay.
  • Everyone is considered either gay or straight. Really. And if you aren’t now, you are either frightened (really gay) or experimenting (really straight). 
  • The concerns of bi people are ignored, trivialised, demonised, laughed at. For instance, when people say things like:

Everyone's bisexual
Men can’t be bisexual
You must be really into sex
Can I watch?
But you’re involved with X person now – that means you’re straight/gay
You’re just confused
Bi people have things really easy

And, connected with that:

Biphobia – in all its many guises

Such as:

  • Rejection by the wider queer/lesbian and gay community, whether individuals or groups 
  • At the same time as you experience rejection from friends/ family/the wider society for not being straight. A similar sort of homophobia to that experienced by lesbians and gay men, but with added extras 
  •  People saying things like: 
  • You’re too old/attractive/ugly/straight-looking/queer-looking/monogamous to be bisexual 
  • You’re young – you’ll grow out of it! 
  • Bisexuals are greedy/disgusting/can’t be trusted

 I could go on… but I’m only depressing myself!

With all that, is it any surprise that so many bi people feel they don’t belong anywhere, that you will never find a lover/s who will truly accept you? That, if you are told that bi people don’t and can’t exist, and if they do there is something wrong with them, that it might lead to lack of self-belief, and ultimately self-hatred?

Difficult circumstances and depression aren’t necessarily linked, of course, but a lack of support can make a bad time so much worse.

So, lovely readers, some questions for you.

Why do you think bi people report so much depression and other forms of mental ill-health. And what do you think we – as individuals and as a community – can do to help ourselves and others?

For more things to think about, I’ve written other posts on bisexuality and mental health here 

Glad to be bi 
My next post (to be published on 7th September) is going to be specifically on being a happy bisexual. It would be terrible if everyone thought that bi people were only miserable when, for many of us, bisexuality is great, something that has added and continued to add to their lives. And for others, their bisexuality is something that just is. A part of them that needs no more explanation than that.

As Tom Robinson sang Glad to be Gay in the 1970s, so we need a (non-religious) Blessed to be Bi for the 2010s.

We need to spell out the reasons it’s great to be bi – even when, especially when, others think it really isn’t.

Which leads on to some more questions for you: What do you love being bisexual? And, if you didn’t always feel that way, how have you made things better? Let me know.


Lydia said...

Why do you think bi people report so much depression and other forms of mental ill-health. And what do you think we – as individuals and as a community – can do to help ourselves and others?

I agree that biphobia plays a role. I also think it's stressful to never belong to and be accepted by a larger community the way straight (and to a less extent gay) people are.

Human beings are pack animals. With the exception of the occasional hermit we're really not meant to be solitary. Of course many people will experience higher rates of mental illness without that emotional support.

What do you love being bisexual?

I can't imagine being anything else.

As tiring as it is sometimes I also love reshaping other people's opinions about what we're *really* like. There's nothing like seeing someone finally realize that bisexual people are just like anyone else.

I love the compassion and patience I've developed as a result of my experiences.

if you didn’t always feel that way, how have you made things better?

By finding friends - straight, gay, bisexual and otherwise - who accept me 100%. It's amazing how powerful (platonic) love is.

And by very slowly learning not to care what other people think about my identity. It's not like anyone's sexual orientation can be changed by a vote or something. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a bisexual in a polyamorous relationship. My primary and secondary romantic partners are both bisexual women. I live with my primary and with her other primary partner. We all also suffer from depression.

So, in short, we all understand and accept each other's sexuality and each other's states of mental health. That's a huge part of it, knowing that we have people who we can talk to who won't be confused, scared, offensive, but rather supportive and affirming.

Like Lydia, I can't imagine being anything other than bisexual.

Aside from my boss telling me, aout 30 seconds before I came out, that bisexuals were greedy and indecisive, I'd have to say that the most offensive comments that I've received have been from gay men. In my previous job, I was quite heavily involved in the LGBT support group and would go to the various conferences and events. I couldn't tell you the number of gay men who told me "Well, I couldn't have a relationship with you, because I wouldn't be able to trust you - I wouldn't know where you'd been." Eventually, I got sick of being polite and took to replying that they couldn't have a relationship with me because I didn't fancy them. At this point I'd be told that I was being personal and offensive. Go figure...

Sue George said...

"I wouldn't know where you'd been."

dear gods....

Elly said...

I am not questioning the findings of the reports. But I am very unhappy with bi organisations promoting the idea that bisexual people suffer worse mental health than others.

This is because

a) it falls into the 'pathologising' approach to sexuality that was so big in the 19th century when the 'homosexual' was presented as mentally ill.

b) it ignores how many people have same sex sex without ever recognising themselves as 'bisexual'. What is their mental health like?

c) it makes out bisexuals to be a separate category distinct from gay, straight, trans, msms etc.
The thing I love most about bisexuality is it challenges the whole notion of fixed sexual identities

d) it is 'depressing'! I am happy to campaign for better mental health services and access to services for bisexual people. But I am not happy to present bi people as prone to mental illness.

I myself do not identify as bi and I have had plenty of mental health problems in my life. But I dont have a 'community' to talk to. Not based on my sexual identity anyway.


Eponymous said...

I don't think it's pathologizing to recognize that there are additional social stresses on bisexuals. Not all of us are fortunate to land in a queer community that welcomes us. Going to a place for support and to meet people who claim to be willing to accept you, and then being rejected just as you're being rejected by the straight community, told you're not trustworthy or confused? Take away supports and of course you're more likely to have trouble adjusting.

Another issue is the lack of bi-friendly and bi-identified therapists. Back when I was still in the closet, I saw a therapist who I worked with for a year. At no time other than the initial interview did the stresses of being in the closet ever come up. If I had been gay, I'm certain he would have pointed me toward some resources or referred me to someone who worked with a gay clientele -- but since I'm bi, he seemed to not have any idea what to do for me.

--Patrick RichardsFink

Lou said...

Gay men will often be very patronizing, especially if they are older than me, about my bisexuality. Once I had one guy say "Oh your bisexual? You mean like 'buy me something and I'll be sexual'?"

I feel like being a bisexual man is something that throughout my life has empowered me by teaching me to develop a thick skin and to move through society regardless of what some people may be thinking of me.

I am very fortunate to have a very supportive and honest partner, with whom I have an open relationship, and a good network of friends and family that at least respect my identity.

Nudist Bi said...

I've been depressed for about 20 years because I can't seem to find anyone like me. Everyone that I meet in the GLBT world is gay or lesbian. I feel as if I'm all alone here in Charleston, South Carolina. I don't have any problems with racial issues, age smoking or anything else for that matter. Where are the bisexual people in this area? It's been so long since I've had a close relationship with anyone that I've just about forgotten what it"s like. My address is

Nudist Bi said...

Hi there! I'm back again! One day later....I used to go to gay bars on a somewhat regular basis but then I stopped. When I'd tell someone that I'm Bi and not Gay it would sometimes rub people the wrong way. Not my problem...or is it? Some people would get the idea that I have not yet decided which way to go. One man told me that I am an abomination. This clearly told Me that he had a problem seeing past the end of his nose. Bi folks in my eyes can be the most misunderstood people on earth. P.S. For a long time now I have been using St. Johns Wort to help combat the problem of being who I am. Does it help? Somesomes. What I need the most in my life is to have the opportunity to meet and speak with others who are like me. Thankyou for your time.

Sue George said...

It's not you who's in the wrong, it really isn't.

Mannybi said...

I have acknowledged my bisexuality for 12years but although im out to my family I am staying in my heterosexual marriage. We have been down the road of swinging polyamourous relationship and dont feel that we could do that again. We have also considered a bdsm relationship but i am switch and she prefers sub to dom. It leaves me frustrated but not depressed...Yet. I wonder sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Well neighbour I'm here in North Carolina Bi and glad that I am. But like moast mid aged males, would love to have social acceptance. I need a friend to talk to . Solidone@mail dot com.

Nudist Bi said...

I knew that I was Bi way back in my early 20s. I'm now in my late 50s. At age 25 I married a so call gag hag and it lasted for fourteen years. I was very faith ful to my wife and we have two children who have known for most of their lives that I'm Bi.

CrackerLilo said...

Several members of my paternal family have dealt with depression, and it seemed to "kick in," as it were, for me when my father died. (I was 7.) So I'm not really sure my bisexuality affected my depression to such a great extent, but I know that unhelpful ideas and comments I learned in school didn't help me any. I felt better simply running across the word "bisexual" in a dictionary when I was 14--it meant there were others like me, else why would that word need to be made up?

I do think it can't possibly help anybody to be told that they're a freak, in a phase and need to grow up, hypersexual, just being trendy, etc. The homophobia I grew up with in the Assemblies of God church affected me greatly, too.

I love being Leaving the Assemblies of God church at 18 helped; so did my best friend coming out as bi when we were 17. I came out to our group of friends with her. I have other bi and accepting friends now, too. Like other commenters, I've never been anything else and don't think I'd know how anyway. Other peoples' lack of understanding/acceptance is their problem, not mine. That took me *forever* to learn.

I'm not sure what we can do to help others besides keep the information flowing, be out (or supportive) if we can, and perhaps give references to bi-supportive mental health professionals in all income brackets within our areas when we can.

CrackerLilo said...

I'm not sure how much my bisexuality and my depression have to do with each other. Obviously it doesn't help to be stigmatized, told you're immature and going through a phase, only want attention or lots of sex with random people, etc. It really doesn't help not to have peers. But my depression kicked in, as it were, when my father died. I was 7, and had no clear idea what "happy" or "normal" felt like for over 20 years. I have a family history of depression on the paternal side, too, and I'm the only known non-heterosexual there. It's like a knitting basket after the cats got into it--hard to sort out!

I love being I learned some horrible crap in school, church, and even some teen magazines that helpfully suggested liking girls was a phase some girls went through. Just stumbling on the word "bisexual" in the dictionary when I was 14 helped me. I figured that if the word needed to be created, I couldn't possibly be the only one. My best friend accidentally coming out when I was 17 helped immeasurably. I came out with her to our small group of friends because I couldn't let her be alone when I shared the same trait. Leaving the Assemblies of God church when I was 18 helped even more. They have restrictive attitudes toward all sexuality, especially female. I have other friends who are bi and supportive now, too. I've learned that what other people think about me isn't necessarily my business, and that was *hard*. That took a lot of therapy for me.

I think we do need to be open about our bisexuality and all problems that may be associated with it, as well as the joys. A problem can't be solved until it's identified. It may be helpful to identify bi-supportive mental health professionals (and what they charge, and what aid they'll accept) in one's area. Being honest about both bisexuality and mental health issues, when one can, and being supportive of others can help. I wish I could think of more.

Sue George said...

"It's like a knitting basket after the cats got into it--hard to sort out!"

Yes exactly - I don't think there is generally *one* reason for depression. But I was both interested and moved by your comment about how your depression kicked in after the death of your father - and that others on the paternal side of your family had been depressed too.

My own experience with depression was also closely connected to my father's death (when I was 12) following years of illness. He had been depressed too before that illness, as was my mother after he (and her own father) died.

For me, my depression was closely connected with ideas about death - what's the point of anything, if we're all going to die. But I fully accept that many other factors, probably things involving my bisexuality, have their role to play too.

Zigzig said...

I agree with the article, because I'm bisexual, but I have revealed it only to some of my friends and my partner.

Since I moved to South Africa, most people here aren't so open minded like in Europe, where people look freely on homosexuality and bisexuality. There are cases when people even kill gays and lesbians here, because they think it's against the Bible.

Sometimes it gets me depressed of not be able to openly reveal myself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this article. I have identified Bi/Neither for most of my life and have had to deal with lots of prejudice for it. Most recently I was assualted at my last job and people in my community covered it up. According to them it was my fault and my doctors started trying to give me all sorts of other diagnosis. I had my privacy invaded and lots of religious nuts trying to 'cure' me. This really did a number on my PTSD and Depression. It is good to hear there are others out there. I was nearly shoved back into the closet after that situation and am trying to get back on my feet and not be afraid to leave the house after the assault. I hope to find community as after coming out I lost all my friends and respect from my community. Sadly even my therapist is telling me that i am just confused and not really bisexual. People want me to prove my queerness by trying to get me to break up with my opposite gender partner. I've been leered at, followed and mistreated in public but it is unbearable for me to stay silent. I want to believe that America will pass this stage of hatred and move forward. Right now your blog is another thing that is keeping me alive. Your voice matters, much love and light to you. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the article. Its so hard and confusing to not understand who you like, girls or boys. And no those magazines do not help! For the longest time I thought I was just 'confused' and that I'd grow out of it ... never happened of course. And people's attitude to gay and bisexuals, girls in particular for some reason, is awful! Girls want a 'GBF' but of course it must be a gay MAN. I couldnt count the amount of times girls have told me if their female friend came out they wouldnt be comfortable
around them anymore and would even stop being friends! Clearly they said this without knowing im bisexual. Coming out isnt as straightforward for us either, people assume bi's are either really gay or sraight. I wouldnt necessarily say my sexuality is the only reason for my depression, but having no one know the real you, and getting preached at every week in church doesnt exactly promote happiness. And when you realise the majority of your friends and parents are actively homo and biphobic its hard to change that. Im planning on coming out when I go to college, but sometimes I just see how far away escape is and realise that there is no way of escaping myself and wonder if i'll last that long. I tell myself it will get better but I cant see it.

Unknown said...

I found that to be more helpful well let me know how it turns out! I love what you guys are always up too. Such clever work and reporting!curing depression naturally

Anonymous said...

I've had depression since childhood and just come terms with it and getting medication and therapy. I'm 27yeard old now.
Depression runs in my maternal side of the family so I really don't know how much it has anything to do with my sexuality. I have bisexual and depressed cousins, too.

I would say that getting terms with depression and seeking help has been harder than being terms with my sexuality. My sexuality is something I've allways been confident about. I think my sexuality is strong yet I have no need to push it on people, I'm not overly sexed nor a sex-addict. Like many other replies before mine have stated, I can't imagine being anything else.

I'm a bi-woman happily in a relationship with a bi-man. I'm a bit older than him so I have more experince than him but that's ok. Past relationships with straight men just don't work the same way or relationships with lesbian women, either.

Unknown said...

Hello! I realize that this is an old post. However....

I find that it is difficult to find bisexuals who want to talk about being bisexual, ie., the psychology of it all. I find that people seem to be more comfortable in their straight or gay roles and so "hide" that part of them. I would love to talk to anyone who wants an ear. - /

SexyLittleIdeas said...

Whoa, you'd think that with all their plethoras of sexual options it would outweigh a little bit of discrimination...

Sue George said...

Hmm. I'd hazard a guess that you aren't bi, or gay, or anything else that means you are discriminated against.

Drivebythinker said...

I think the higher rates of mental health issues stem from numerous things.

For some, their depression is just as genetically ingrained as their sexuality. For others it's a lack of understanding/compassion from family and friends. Then there's the intolerance that's either inadvertently or intentionally taught in church about non-traditional relationships. There's also the complete misrepresentation of Bisexuals in the mainstream media. And then there's the lack of support from within the LGBT community itself.

I understand that people might not want to have Bisexuals labeled as having more mental health issues, but it's important that these studies are done. It's important to show the repercussions we suffer when people sexually stereotype us or refuse to acknowledge us as equals. Especially when it relegates us to being an unaccepted minority within a minority group.

I'm not just Bisexual, I have Bipolar Disorder and ADHD. I'm sure you can guess the jokes that come from that. I can normally laugh at myself pretty well, but there are days where I'm just left feeling less than everyone else.

Also, I don't think that being Bisexual "challenges the whole notion of fixed sexual identities", I think it merely opens people up to the information that there are other types of sexual identities besides gay or straight. Asexual, Pansexual, Polysexual are just as ignored and misunderstood as Bisexuals.

I've had it said to me, from a friend who's gay, that I'm not Bisexual, I'm a lesbian. This because I happen to find more women attractive than men at the moment.

It's extremely insulting for me to have someone that I know has experienced prejudice about being gay, try to label me to better fit his understanding.

Last year, in a fit of anger, I came out to my brother on Facebook. I was tired of him arguing against marriage equality based on his Church beliefs and wanted him to have a more personal example of someone that may seek a same sex marriage one day. His first reaction, which I think typifies the reaction most Bisexuals experience when they come out was "You weren't like this when you were growing up." He later told me I was his sister and he loved me no matter what. I appreciate him making a point to say that, but I wish it put me less in mind of saying that to my other brother when I was visiting him in prison. And also, that it wouldn't evoke the image of people telling me "love the sinner, not the sin."

Having been homeschooled during my adolescent years, and not becoming active in the LDS church until I was 12, I didn't have the exposure to what people might consider "social norms". I grew up with an understanding that I would crush on both boys and girls and I didn't have anything to really define these feelings for me.

It wasn't until I got a little older and began experiencing the prejudice against relationships they considered abnormal that I began to question myself. I began making jokes against being gay, and Bisexuality wasn't even considered. I began to feel guilty about who I was and what I was feeling and I pushed it down for a long time. But later, as I got older and began forming my own opinions again, I started presenting the idea that people who were gay were born that way and God wouldn't make something he disapproved of. These arguments didn't go over well.

As I continued to attend church, i continued to struggle with my identity. Again, where I live, Bisexuality was not easily come by or defined, so I was left feeling even more out of place than had I just been gay. Once I found alcohol, and body piercings, I let those be the reason that I left the church. It was simply easier than addressing what I was really struggling with.

Anonymous said...

I know this article is old, but I suppose I'm just posting as a bit of a testimony to the world of confusion that can arise from liking both genders.
I have been bisexual as long as I can remember, it was always confusing growing up- getting crushes on people of both genders, but keeping half of it secret.
When I was a little older, I really just got more confused. I had gay friends, went to gay clubs and decided I was probably just gay. The problem was that I was too unsure to ever admit to gay, straight or bisexual. Not to fucking anyone.
Now, I'm a sad sack thwarted by incessant loneliness and the idea that no-one 'really knows me'. I have had the rare sexual encounter, but I have never had a relationship. I partly blame this on having repressed my sexual identity for so long that I now feel I have none, and frankly, wouldn't know where to start.