Study uncovers why bisexual Australians suffer poorer mental health

Bisexual pride flag
Photo: Peter Salanki/Flickr

The world’s largest study of bisexual people to date, led by La Trobe University in Melbourne, has examined why bisexual Australians experience higher rates of psychological distress than their heterosexual and homosexual peers.

The Who I Am study, findings of which were recently published in the Australian Journal of General Practice, surveyed more than 2,600 bisexual people across Australia seeking to uncover the reasons for poor mental health in bisexual people.

The study found links between poor mental health and the following factors: bisexual people who are in heterosexual relationships; bisexual people perceiving their sexuality to be bad or wrong; and bisexual people thinking their partner’s support or understanding of their sexuality is low.

“Experiencing ‘feeling your sexuality is bad or wrong’ increases the odds of having higher psychological distress,” the study states.

“These findings suggest that self-acceptance of one’s sexuality is an important aspect of mental wellbeing for bisexual people.”

The study found one in four cisgender bisexual people have attempted suicide and nearly 80 per cent had considered self-harm or thought about committing suicide.

Over 60 per cent of the participants had high or very high current psychological distress, with 40 per cent reporting having had depression in the past, the study found.

And the transgender and gender diverse bisexual people who participated in the study reported experiencing even poorer mental health.

Research Officer Julia Taylor, who led the research from La Trobe’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), said the study show more support is needed to improve bi people’s mental health.

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships in 2013 revealed approximately 1 in 10 Australian adults report attraction to more than one gender.

But bisexual and pansexual people are frequently subjected to discrimination and a lack of social acceptance, even within the gay and lesbian communities, Taylor said.

“Attraction to more than one gender is very common among Australian adults and most health practitioners are unaware of the very poor mental health associated with this group,” Mrs Taylor said.

“While there’s been an increased focus on lesbian and gay health in recent years, a substantial gap in knowledge specifically on bisexual health needs still remains.

“Through the Who I Am study, we wanted to address this gap and provide GPs and other health professionals with more information on bisexual mental health.

“The findings have given a unique insight into what challenging life experiences bisexual people are going through and how this is impacting their mental health.”

The Who I Am study has led to Taylor founding Bi+ Australia, the first national organisation set up to improve the mental health of bisexual Australians through support, education and research.

Bi+ Australia offers specialised counselling to bisexual Australians and their families and includes an education hub for service providers and the public, as well as a research centre.

“Our mission is to support people who are attracted to more than one gender and enhance the understanding, acceptance, inclusion and celebration of bisexuality and pansexuality in Australia,” Taylor said.

To find out more, visit the Bi+ Australia website here.

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