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Bisexual women most vulnerable to poor health and wellbeing

Two recent studies conducted by La Trobe University and the University of Queensland have revealed that bisexual individuals are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to mental health, with female bisexuals being hit hardest.

La Trobe University researcher Julia Taylor conducted the survey entitled Bi+ Australia following the completion of her Who I Am study of 2,600 bisexual Australians.

Ms Taylor said: “The very high rates of poor mental health and tendency towards suicide in this group are shocking and confirm why we need to do more to support bisexual people.”

Her research, which was conducted through the university’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, uncovered some of the “little-understood reasons for poor mental health among people who are attracted to more than one gender”.

Ms Taylor continued: “What we found was high levels of psychological distress among the majority of participants.”

“They told us they had to pretend to be straight in some situation and gay in others.”

Bisexual women hit hardest

Further, Dr Francisco Perales, professor at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science, recently conducted a similar study of bisexual mental health, revealing alarming results about bisexual mental health as well.

The study of 16,000 Australians, titled the HILDA survey, revealed that non-heterosexual women, most notably bisexual women, “fared worse than non-heterosexual men”.

Dr Perales continued: “The combination of disadvantaged statuses could have a compounding effect on the health and wellbeing of this group.”

The reasons for bisexual women experiencing greater struggles with mental health, as suggested by the results of the HILDA study, are not well understood and may be difficult to pinpoint.

The HILDA study analysed 20 indicators of health and wellbeing, zeroing in on “mental and physical health, health behaviours and self-reported wellbeing”.

“Disparities in health and wellbeing between gay/lesbian and heterosexual individuals were stable from 2012 to 2016,” Dr Perales said.

She continued: “In the same study period, disparities between bisexual and heterosexual individuals widened for more than half the indicators.”

Unacceptance and social disconnect

Both studies suggest that bisexuals can struggle with acceptance in both mainstream heteronormative groups and gay and lesbian minority groups, indicating a hindered sense of belonging to a community or subculture.

Meanwhile, after analysing the results of the Who I Am study, Ms Taylor said that both male and female bisexuals “faced questions about their sexuality from members of both the heterosexual and LGBTIQ+ communities”.

“Many participants reported being told their sexuality wasn’t real,” she added.

“Gay men and lesbians tried to convince them they were really gay or lesbian and straight people insisted they were just experimenting.”

The “very high” rates of suicidal tendencies reported among bisexuals confirm that more support is needed to address their unique struggles, which in previous years have been grouped together in studies of gay and lesbian mental health struggles.

Bisexuals are a highly diverse and populous group of individuals, whose sexualities exist on a spectrum of countless shades of grey.

Meanwhile, sexuality and identity are deeply entwined, or go hand in hand.

If a bisexual person is questioned or criticised about their sexuality or told it is a lie, their identity becomes invalidated or discarded.

As a result, bisexuals can be left with the options of conforming to the norms or expectations of their peers or isolating themselves from heterosexual and LG communities, in order to conceal their sexuality.

Any form of unacceptance or social disconnect can be damaging to a person’s wellbeing, while disregarding bisexuality creates confusion around their sexual nature and burdens their love life.

The distinction between the mental health struggles of the bisexual community from those of the gay and lesbian community is relatively new, meaning experts are able to gain new insights and approach their specific needs without misunderstanding them.

Dr Perales concluded: “The findings highlighted the importance of fully integrating sexual orientation in health policy and practice.

“They also underscore the need for further research that identifies the factors contributing to… [their] disadvantage, including stigma and discrimination.”