Bisexual people have the highest risk of developing a mental illness, self-harming and considering suicide in comparison to lesbians, gay men and heterosexual people.
The LGBTIreland Report 2016, which is considered to be the largest study of LGBTI people in Ireland to date, found that 34% of participants had self-harmed, with 60% of these people saying that their self-harm was related to their LGBTI identity. Bisexual people were more likely to have self-harmed than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 54.5% of bisexual people interviewed stating they had self-harmed at a point in their lives.
The report also found that 60% of LGBTI people had seriously thought of ending their lives, with almost half of these people considering it in the past year. 60% said that their suicidal thoughts were related to their LGBTI identity. Again, bisexual people were more likely to consider ending their own lives than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 65.3% of bisexual people interviewed mentioning they had considered ending their life at one point. This is compared to 19.5% of gay men, and 37.4% of lesbians/gay women.
With figures so high, you’d think that this would be a difficult problem to ignore. Unfortunately in Ireland, bisexuality in general is still very much swept under the carpet. The stigma surrounding mental health issues is slowly but surely being broken down, but bisexuality is something that people still fail to understand. To tackle the problem of poor mental health in bisexual people, we need to look into why it’s happening in the first place. Why are bisexual people so much more prone to developing a mental illness, self-harming or attempting suicide? Sharon Nolan, Galway based Bi+ Ireland co-ordinator, says that there are many different factors contributing to this,
“The lack of acceptance within both gay and straight spaces for bi+ people [causes poor mental health]. Questioning the validity of their identity, slut-shaming, questioning their commitment abilities, and questioning the sheer existence of us. This leads to rejection from social spaces and internalised biphobia. The pressures of feeling that you always need to educate or defend your identity is also damaging for your mental health.”
I carried out a survey on 100 people who identified as bisexual, to see what their experiences were with biphobia, bi-erasure and mental health difficulties. The findings were as follows:
93% said they had experienced difficulties with their mental health
50% had been diagnosed with a mental illness
79% said they had experienced biphobia or bi-erasure
54% said that biphobia or bi-erasure had contributed to their mental health issues
67% had self-harmed
28% had attempted suicide
As Sharon mentioned, biphobia and bi-erasure are contributing factors to the poor mental health of bisexual people, adding to the shocking statistics above. Biphobia is the dislike or prejudice against bisexual people, and Matthew Palliser-Kehoe, a 20-year-old bisexual man from Cork says that his experience of biphobia seems to stem people being unwilling to understand what bisexuality is. The BESS (Business Economics and Social Studies) student says that there is a significant difference between homophobia and biphobia,
“There seems to be a large proportion of members of the LGBT community, along with the wider population, that are unwilling to even recognize bisexuality as a thing that exists. While homophobia is undoubtedly alive and well, there is an underlying acceptance that homosexuality exists. This contrasts with biphobia, where the most painful and most common encounter of biphobia is the denial or refusal to accept the existence of bisexuality in the first place.”
Ellen Reid-Buckley, a 23-year-old queer woman from Limerick, says that biphobia has a lot to do with erasure, “I think marriage equality hit home in assimilation culture for cis gay men especially, but cis lesbian women also gained from that representation. Bi+ and trans voices didn’t get a word in edgeways.”
Ellen, who recently graduated from UCC with a Masters in English (Irish Writing and Film) has experienced biphobia both from inside of the LGBT community and from heterosexual people. One of the more recent incidents was being called “blasphemous” by a lesbian at Dublin Pride for having a boyfriend. She has found that some members of the lesbian community have been “very sceptical or almost enraged” by the thought of a bisexual woman. However she says she most commonly experiences biphobia from cisgender straight men,
“I have been asked by many cis men how many women I’ve slept with, solicited for threesomes by strangers on Tinder because I had a bio that stated I was queer, and even filmed in nightclubs kissing women.”
Nicole* is one of many bisexual people who has suffered badly with mental health issues; she has struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and suicide attempts in the past. In 2011 when Nicole* was still in secondary school, a girl named “Layla” added her and other people in her year on Facebook. She was a blonde haired, blue eyed American girl, and instantly she zoned in on Nicole*. What Nicole* did not realise was that it was a fake account,
“After about three weeks of a joke that everyone except me was in on, Layla told me that she liked me. And I melted, I felt excited and attracted to her too. So I told her I had always felt this way toward girls, and she said that it was okay to like girls and try it out, and that we could try it together. The next day, Layla fell off the face of the earth.”
The next few days in school were hell for Nicole*, who was called a “dyke” by classmates who refused to get changed in the same room as her for PE. The next year she met her first boyfriend, and everyone forgot about her and Layla. But Nicole* never forgot,
“I didn’t ‘look or act gay’ anymore so I sailed through school relatively unscathed. The flip side of straight passing is that I lost all sense of self and identity, and fell quickly into drugs and alcohol after school.”
Nicole* also found it difficult to come out to her family, who do not believe in bisexuality, “They think its greed or confusion, but they all voted yes to marriage equality. They’re not homophobic, they love gay people but the bisexuality thing doesn’t make sense to them.”
If we aren’t going to acknowledge that bisexual people exist, it makes tackling the bigger problems like poor bisexual mental health even more difficult. We have to take it right back to the basics and examine the way we think and talk about bisexual people. Ireland can be a very one-track mind type of nation, where there is a tendency to think in binaries because that’s all we know. But with statistics as high as these, something has got to change. Sexuality is a spectrum, and there is so much more to it than simply being straight or gay.
Nicole’s* name has been changed to protect her identity