Bisexual people suffer the worst mental health problems of anyone based on their sexuality, says a new report.
‘The Bisexuality Report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity’ found bisexual people are prone to higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, all of which are embedded in biphobia.
Distinct from homophobia, biphobia is grounded in the emperical observation that attitudes towards bisexual people are found to be more negative than those towards other minority groups.
The report reveals that bisexuals are often stereotyped as promiscious, incapable of commitment, a threat to relationships and spreaders of disease. Additionally, of all the common sexual identity groups, bisexual people most frequently have mental health problems.
The study uses British and international data to support this conclusion. A major Canadian study published by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission in 2010 found bisexual men to be 6.3 times more likely, and bisexual women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people. The report also incorporates an Australian study from 2002 where rates of mental health issues amongst bisexual people were found to be significantly higher than those amongst lesbians, gay men or heterosexual people.
A smaller survey focusing specifically on bisexual people who attended the annual UK bisexual conference in 2008 found that 36% of attendees had either single or multiple mental or physical health impairments that interfered with their day-to-day life. And a quarter of people had had a diagnosis of mental health issues from a professional, with the highest proportions reporting depression (16%), anxiety (8%) and self-harm (8%).
Dr Meg Barker, an senior lecturer in psychology at the British Open University, who led the report, said: ‘Government policy and equalities agendas generally consider lesbian, gay and bisexual issues together. However bisexual people often face prejudice from within lesbian and gay groups as well as heterosexual communities.
‘Bisexuals are invisible – not represented in mainstream media, policy, legislation or within lesbian and gay communites. Government and communities need to single out bisexual people as a separate group in order to address this equality gap.’
However, the report does not focus solely on negative experiences related to biphobia and bisexual invisibility.
The Bisexuality Report also highlighted several positive aspects related to bisexual peoples’ experiences, such as the ability to develop identities and relationships without restrictions. Having a strong sense of independence, self-awareness and authenticity were also mentioned in the report. One in-depth international study from 2010 has specifically researched this issue, including participants from across Canada, Britain, America, New Zealand, Norway, Finland and Tunisia.
Bisexual people also speak of their acceptance and appreciation of others’ differences and feel well-placed to notice and challenge social biases and assumptions beyond sexuality.
Alice Ashworth, a Policy Officer at Stonewall, a British lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, said about the report: ‘We’re delighted to endorse this report, which builds on Stonewall research looking at the distinct experiences of bisexual people.
'Bi people will be pleased to know that researchers really do understand their needs. Now it’s important for service providers, the media and employers to take those needs seriously – we hope this important work helps them do to do that.’